Guest column: Fort Lauderdale must be vigilant to maintain title as ‘Yachting Capital of the World’ June 18, 2015

By Walter B. Duke, III

As president of Fort Lauderdale-based Walter Duke + Partners I operate a firm that, among other services, specializes in the valuation and evaluation of marinas, boatyards and marine related properties in the greater Florida market. I offer a unique perspective of the South Florida marine industry based on my professional expertise and my role as a public official in the region.

I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of touring nearly all of the region’s boatyards and marine facilities in my professional capacity and as a two-term elected official. This includes my current position as Dania Beach city commissioner and one term as the city’s mayor. Dania Beach is truly a marine-oriented city that caters to both the recreational boating needs of our community and to the superyacht segment. Despite its relatively small size of 30,000 residents, studies have shown that there is a higher concentration of boatyards and marinas in Dania Beach than any coastal city in South Florida.

Times of trouble and strife tend to expose a lot of important lessons, and the Great Recession provided many such lessons for the greater Fort Lauderdale marine industry. It learned that the title of Yachting Capital of the World is one that must be earned every day and not taken for granted. Many other cities and countries around the world covet what we have and are competing very intensely to take the title from us. The region learned the importance of an engaged and informed local government that supports and promotes our vital marine industry. Examples include: adapting zoning codes; working with life safety professionals to help provide more contemporary and cost effective life safety requirements; dredging out active waterways; lobbying for lower boat sales tax; partnering with other agencies or the private sector to provide more affordable public access dockage; and providing programs that get more residents and visitors out on the water.

We also learned the importance of training and cultivating future generations of marine industry employees of all kinds. Yacht building and repair skills are highly specialized and hard to find. During times of recession yacht builders and repair yards find themselves challenged to maintain their experienced labor. Unfortunately, many of these people left during the recession and never came back, leaving Fort Lauderdale with a void of skilled labor when the market recovered. This served as a stark reminder of the lack of suitable programs to replenish the pool of skilled marine labor and the importance of programs such as marine magnet schools, marine-oriented college programs and on the job training initiatives. Finally, we learned the consequences of selling waterfront real estate to residential developers compared with the importance of maintaining working waterfronts when at all possible.

The regional marine industry provided nearly 110,000 middle class jobs to Broward County and 136,000 in the tri-county area. The positive impact to our local economy is measured at $8.8 billion in the county and is an industry prioritized by Florida Governor Rick Scott. During the last boom economy many cities, including Miami, lost a substantial amount of waterfront land to residential developers. With the establishment of working waterfront programs and a focus on preserving Fort Lauderdale’s boatyards and shipyards, we can avoid Miami’s fate and foster this important industry for generations to come. The importance of the Fort Lauderdale Boat Show and its significance as a bellwether for the marine industry is another essential lesson.

It’s important to have collaboration across all marine interests/issues and share a common vision of what the region needs to accomplish. Local government, professional associations such as the Marine Industries Association of South Florida, private interests and neighborhood associations all must coordinate so that the needs of the community can be met to the best of our ability, allowing Fort Lauderdale to remain the Yachting Capital of the World for generations to come.

Indeed, we learned many lessons that will help this community continue to improve. While there are headwinds such as aging boatyard facilities and the lack of superyacht dockage, the lessons from the Great Recession were well-heeded, and it is my opinion that Fort Lauderdale is heading in the right direction.

Walter B. Duke, III is president of Walter Duke + Partners, a 40-year old Fort Lauderdale based commercial real estate valuation firm and he is a two-term elected official in Dania Beach, including a term as its mayor. He is also the recipient of the 2014 Golden Anchor Award presented annually by the Marine Industries Association of South Florida for lifetime achievement and support of the marine industry.

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Marine Industries Association of South Florida. 2312 S. Andrews Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33316. Phone: 954.524.2733