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Sarasota Thursday, Sep. 17, 2015 5 years ago

Marina Jack owners to upgrade Turtle Beach facility

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The historic Turtle Beach Marina will now be known at Bayfront Yacht Works & Marina.
by: Jack Short Staff Writer

Frank Kelleher may not have been publicly marketing Turtle Beach Marina this year, but word was out that he was looking for the right person to buy the historic property.

This summer, the owners of the 315-slip Marina Jack reached out.

“We were looking for a facility to service the boating community for things like underwater and out-of-water vessel repairs,” said Bob Soran, who owns Marina Jack with his wife, Suzann.

Kelleher persuaded his partners in California and Ohio to sell, and on Sept. 1, they closed on the sale. Turtle Beach Marina and Pub became the Bayfront Yacht Works & Marina and the Turtle Beach Grill.

Operating under the business name of SRS Ventures, the Sorans acquired Turtle Beach Marina for $2.44 million and the Turtle Beach Pub for $636,869. Court records show SRS Ventures borrowed $2.36 million, along with the ability to borrow an additional $881,889, from the Bank of Commerce.

Soran and his director of marina operations, Sam Chavers, will make Bayfront into a "clean marina," a designation given by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to facilities that have implemented environmental measures designed to protect waterways. Marina Jack is a flagship example already, Soran said.

Kathryn Wilson, associate manager of public services for Marina Jack, said it plans to renovate boat racks, update amenities, add boats to the rental fleet and personal watercraft rentals at the Siesta Key marina. Plans for the haul-out facility include the capability of pulling boats up to 60 feet long or 70 tons out of the water for a full spectrum of repairs and maintenance.

According to Soran, there are limited facilities in Sarasota for haul-out work. Marina Jack, he said, does none because of limited space. 

Bayfront will also focus on patio boat rentals.

“There’s a need for good quality rental boats and kayaks,” Soran said. “In particular, patio boats — family friendly vessels.”

Bayfront will double the current fleet of four patio boats and add more if they are needed.

The facility can store about 75 smaller boats, up to 30 feet, in 24 wet slips with the remainder in dry slips.

Though he expects Bayfront’s clientele will be mostly unique to Bayfront, Soran said Marina Jack’s customers will benefit by having a haul-out facility nearby.

“People don’t want to go a long distance to have work done,” he said.

Marina Jack and Bayfront are the largest Marina operation in Sarasota County, by Soran’s estimates. Marina Jack has 309 wet slips and operates the city’s mooring field, which has 59 slips.

Kelleher said he and his partners wanted to renovate the facility when they owned it but also had hoped Midnight Pass would reopen, as it was when the marina, originally known as Dixon's Marina, was built.

“We couldn’t raise the necessary funds to develop the marina as it should be,” he said. “And I knew (SRS) could.”

Additionally, Kelleher said, he didn't want the public to lose access to the water on that part of the key. 

Court records also show that Turtle Beach Marina LLC purchased the marina in 2003 for about $1.69 million. 

The marina and restaurant, which sit on about one acre of land, were built in 1953 and 1955, respectively, and have had extensive renovations since then, according to the Sarasota County property appraiser.  

Tom DeLong, vice president and general manager at Marina Jack for 13 years, is now vice president of Turtle Beach Grill. He said the restaurant will keep its 162 seats, as well as the overall casual, Key West feel of the restaurant.

“We’re not putting tablecloths over there,” he said.

Patrons can look forward to an extended menu with less emphasis on fried foods and renovations such as wood floors, a new roof, paint and a tiki awning out front. He added that the prices would not change significantly.

Staff at the Turtle Beach Grill will remain the same, according to DeLong.

David Hobbs and his son, Sterling, the two full-time employees of the marina, will also remain.

Hobbs, a former retail manager for 30 years, has managed the facility for a little more than a year. “We were making people happy," Hobbs said, "but we were flying by the seat of our pants.” Gradually, he said, he said began noticing improvements by emphasizing the marina's boat-rental operations..

Kelleher will continue to operate Turtles, the restaurant next door at 8875 Midnight Pass Road, as he has for 30 years.

"Turtles is an institution on south Siesta Key," he said. "It's a keeper. "

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