Development and marketing plans consume commissioners' time

Business development and marketing initiatives offered last week by Bremerton Port's CEO Tim Thomson met with lukewarm reactions from both the port commissioners and the public.

Thomson presented a two-page business development initiatives plan at the commissioners' meeting in which he highlighted things that could be done to turn around the port's properties at the airport, the industrial park and the marinas.

"I think this is a good overview of what needs to happen," said Commissioner Axel Strakeljahn, following the presentation. "But I want more detail. We need more specifics."

The plan was the result of a staff "brainstorming" session, Thomson said, and came about after Commissioner Roger Zabinski suggested a planning retreat for commissioners and staff.

"These are initiatives and strategies to increase revenue at the port," Thomson said as he offered up his plan. "These are the things that we think are achievable with the staff we have. But these initiatives will take the staff right to the edge of our capabilities. If much else is added, we'll have to take something else off the table."

His plan calls for bringing houseboats to the Bremerton Marina, which is now at about a 30 percent occupancy rate. It calls for adding large horizontal sails over portions of the marina to create a barrier from rain and to attract tenants. The plan lists adding floating sales offices for yacht companies and other marine sales businesses and it mentions decreasing moorage fees which are widely viewed as not being competitive.

Regarding the airport, the plan calls for a rental rate study, possible landing fees, or fuel surcharges, sponsoring "golf fly-ins," where private pilots would fly into Bremerton and then be entertained on local golf courses. And it mentions getting tenants for the second floor of the Aviation Business building.

For the industrial park, the plan lists getting an updated appraisal and having a local brokerage firm market the park, investigate boat or RV dry storage in the park's graveled space, having a card fueling station, and possibly an RV pump out station.

Commissioners asked very few questions about Thomson's plan, but said they will study it and come back in two weeks at the next port meeting with their questions and suggestions.

"I support what you've done and I want to thank the staff for their business development ideas," said Zabinski.

But since the presentation, one tenant at the problematic Bremerton Marina said he's not going to stay unless occupancy rates increase.

Scott Alprin, owner of Emerald Yachts, said he wasn't impressed with the plan.

"Adding some houseboats and a tent and even some waterfront offices, that's kinda cool," he said. "But that's not going to solve the overall problems. When it comes down to it, it's simple marketing 101. They need to get someone in there who has the marketing skills and experience in marinas and in the boating industry."

Just a day before Thomson presented his plan to port commissioners, Alprin approached Thomson with a plan of his own. His plan called for hosting open house weekends this summer with a goal of getting 12 to 15 new permanent moorage contracts per weekend. His plan called for $10,000 of direct mail promotions of the open house weekends by the port, and to pay him $10,000 a month from April to August for his marketing work.

Alprin said he would go after local permanent boaters who might be moored at other marinas, but who are looking to re-locate.

Alprin said Thomson thanked him for submitting his plan.

"But he told me that the port was going to pursue other more experienced marketing options," Alprin said.

The marketing and business development plans follow a decision made in January by commissioners not to contract with outside firms to manage the Bremerton Marina. Dallas-based Marinas International and Marsh Andersen LLC, owned by Robert Wise of Bainbridge Island, submitted management proposals to the commissioners that were reviewed and dismissed. A call for proposals was issued last year to help with filling the marina which has been estimated to be losing $1,000 a day due to low occupancy rates.

Privatizing the marina is something that former port director Steve Slaton supported, but commissioners didn't opt for. Slaton recently retired and since then, the topic of the marina has been on-going. Commissioners say they have not ruled out reconsidering private management of the Bremerton Marina.

Alprin said he's not hurt that his proposal was turned down.

"I have a day job," he said. "I didn't need anything else. I was merely trying to help the port and get the marina filled.

"My hope now is that the board will seriously pursue outside options to filling the marina. They need to get someone in there with substantial experience in marketing marinas and someone who knows that yachting industry. They need to re-visit the privatization option that they dismissed without really investigating it."

Alprin's contract with the port for his company's space in the Bremerton Marina is up in September.

"As for the business our company has done there, I've been extremely disappointed, to say the least," he said.


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