Activists rally to save popular Palm Beach County marina from developers

Palm Beach Shores · Boaters, diners and other denizens of a popular marina hope the Palm Beach County Commission commits to spending tax money to preserve what they describe as a jewel on the Intracoastal Waterway.

Their objective — backed by Commission Chairwoman Karen Marcus, who represents the area — is to avoid development of the Sailfish Marina.

One recent plan would have seen the marina and its grounds sold for a condominium project. Although that plan was called off, county officials and people who enjoy the marina want to eliminate the risk of losing it.

When word started spreading in recent weeks about the aborted sale, regulars and occasional visitors started turning out in droves.

“They were mad, very mad,” recalls Annie Zinberg, who has been a server in the restaurant for four years. “Not even because of the condominiums. They did it because of the Sailfish.”

Josh Murray, president of the Sailfish Marina, was impressed by public reaction to word of the now-canceled sales contract. “We were surprised at the breadth and the extent of it. We were awed by it,” he said.

Physically, the 4-acre site includes a 300-seat restaurant, a shop and a 19-unit motel. Docks with about 90 slips are about 500 yards from Peanut Island.

Psychologically, it’s much more to its fans, many of whom enjoy the public access to the privately owned marina.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen an upset person here. Everybody’s walking around with a grin on their face,” said James Lowery of Orlando.

He spent the weekend in one of the motel’s efficiencies, his seventh or eighth trip since meeting his girlfriend, Lisa Diaz, at the Sailfish a year ago.

`It’s magical’

Maynard Logan of Palm Beach has been visiting far longer, 38 years. “It’s just one of the few places on the whole East Coast that the Gulf Stream bangs up here. It’s magical. You can’t put a price on it.”

The deep blue-green water, much clearer than in many other places along the Intracoastal, is a perfect place to watch tropical fish gather along the seawall.

As to whether it’s worth spending tax money to preserve, Logan’s emphatically in favor.

So are Kilian and Grace Currey of Palm Beach Gardens. They have stopped to eat at the marina two or three times a week for 15 years.

“I would be very upset to see this go. I think a lot of people would be very upset,” Kilian Currey said. “If my tax money went into avoiding that, I would be happy as hell.”

Among possibilities to be considered today by the County Commission are buying the development rights or buying the property outright. Marcus said such options would prevent development and allow the restaurant and marina to continue operating.

Marcus said she had no idea what that might cost. Deputy County Administrator Verdenia Baker, who prepared the list of options for commissioners to consider, said it’s safe to assume it would run into the millions, but nothing more precise has been calculated.

John Hallman, South Florida director of the free-market group Citizens for a Sound Economy, was skeptical. He said he hasn’t studied the Sailfish Marina issue, but it might not be the best use for tax money.

“Certainly I think Palm Beach County has some more important issues facing the budget,” he said. “If every time there’s a problem, Palm Beach County says let’s buy off the problem, that would get very expensive.”

The options list includes borrowing money to buy property and development rights and asking voters to amend the county charter to require all waterfront properties to provide public access.

Marcus said there would be no final decision today.

She said she hopes the commission will authorize Commissioner Warren Newell to negotiate with the owners.

Though the marina is not in Newell’s district, he is a boating enthusiast interested in the issue. Newell could not be reached for comment Monday afternoon. Harriet Lerman, a Democratic candidate running against Newell, said she didn’t know enough about the subject to comment.

owner interested

The principal owner of the Sailfish Marina is philanthropist Alexander Dreyfoos. Marcus said she has talked to him and that he’s interested in working out some kind of arrangement.

“It just would be a shame to wall off the waterway to the people all over the county. It’s not just the north end user,” Marcus said. “It’s a very special place.”

Anthony Man can be reached at or 561-832-2905.
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