Empty slips fill Gulfport's new Small Craft Harbor

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Imagine 316 boat slips with first class amenities and hurricane resistant construction. You would think all of that would serve as a magnet to draw boaters to the Gulfport Small Craft Harbor, which reopened in July.

"We have 50 boats under lease right now," said Harbor Master George Manemann.

When asked if he expected that number to be higher by now, Manemann responded, "I did not have an expectation. I think we're probably about where we thought we would be, considering the environment with all this construction still going on. It appears we're not open for business when, in fact, we are."

Ongoing construction around the harbor could be deterring potential tenants. Manemann points to some other factors.

"We've gone through economic changes over the years. Some folks lost boats in the storm. Some people found other harbors in the short term."

Slip fees are above pre-Katrina levels, and that could be an issue. But the harbor master says he believes the new fees are in line with comparable facilities.

"We were in the $2.50 to $3 range/per foot before the storm. Now we're at $5.50 a foot. That is commensurate with other harbors on the coast. In Florida and Texas, the slip rates run $9 to $11 a foot."

The city has sent out letters to former lessees in an effort to lure them back. Manemann hopes to have 80 boats in the harbor by the end of the year.

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