If You've Got A Boat, Marina Has A Slip


Many views from the sprawling Elliott Bay Marina are as spectacular as developers anticipated: Olympic Mountains to the west, downtown skyline and Mount Rainier to the south, and Queen Anne to the east.

But one unexpected view really stands out: hundreds of empty slips.

"All the studies we saw and research we did told us there was an incredible demand for slips," said Martin Harder, general manager of the marina. "Where is everyone? Where are all the boats?"

Of the 1,100 boat slips ready for occupancy, the marina has leased 600. The last 100 slips to complete the 1,200 slip marina - the largest privately owned marina in Seattle - should be completed by April, Harder said. Despite the slower-than-expected demand, Harder remains optimistic. He said the marina needs to fill about 90 percent of its slips to make money for the owners, who sunk $43 million and almost 11 years of work into building the marina.

Marina developer John Kaiser said he wouldn't build the marina if he had it to do over again - not because initial demand has been weak, but because the hassles of building it were so great.

Kaiser and his partners battled environmentalists, fishing interests, Indian tribes, Magnolia neighborhood activists and a labyrinthine city permit process to build the marina.

"It just isn't worth it," said Kaiser.

Said Harder: "Frankly, I feel sorry for anyone who thinks about doing something like this. It's one obstacle after another."

Until recently, it was assumed there would at least be a quick financial payoff to the Marina's owners. Kaiser and Harder have both said in the past that more than 80 percent of the slips were preleased. But hundreds of people who put refundable deposits down on slips pulled out, said Harder. He thinks some who put deposits down may have been speculating they could sublet the slips for a profit.

Others, said Kaiser, probably couldn't wait until the marina opened to get a slip. "Some of these people waited five years or more. I don't blame anyone who had to back out," he said.

Harder isn't ready yet to say the legendary demand for boat slips in Seattle is a myth. He thinks the marina will be successful in the long run. Developers and public officials say they doubt another Seattle marina as big as Elliott Bay could be built anywhere by the end of the decade - if ever - which should help keep the supply of slips below demand.

In the short run, Harder thinks Elliott Bay has been a victim of factors beyond its control. For example, he thinks the marina opened at a bad time - the first 600 slips opened at the end of the boating season last October.

Also, Harder thinks the marina has gotten a bum rap over being too expensive. Elliott Bay rents slips for $7.25 a linear foot per month.

By comparison, Shilshole Bay Marina, a public marina, charges from $5.42 a foot for a 30-foot slip up to $6.40 a month for a 60-foot slip. Another private marina, Westlake Marina, charges a flat rate of $7.55 a linear foot per month for uncovered slips.

Harder said he will use his background in the hotel business - he spent 20 years with Marriott and the last three with Westin - to bring hotel-like services to the marina as a way to set it apart from the competition.

For example, the marina will provide such amenities as transportation, help with luggage and gear, and dockside hookups for cable television and telephones.