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Return of Boating Could Hit Rough Waters

By Olin Ericksen
Staff Writer

March 27 -- Rising gas costs, new fishing restrictions and insurance concerns could be brewing the perfect storm to drive off companies interested in bringing back boating to the financially struggling Santa Monica Pier, The Lookout has learned.

Nearly six months after the City launched an ambitious plan to build a gangway adjacent to the century-old landmark, the only applicant is reportedly having second thoughts about building the structure needed before boating can return after some 25 years.

"They are giving it serious consideration," said Ben Franz Knight, CEO of the non-profit Pier Restoration Corporation.

According to Franz-Knight, representatives of In-Seine Bait Dock have not withdrawn their application, but are worried about uncertain conditions brewing on the horizon that could impact the company and other possible leasees from turning a profit on the pier.

Perhaps the most serious concern is the price of gasoline, which has been hitting the fishing and boating industry hard in recent months, he said.

"The increase in fuel costs is a huge concern for everyone," said Franz-Knight, who has spoken with several boating companies along the Southern California coast.

At a time when studies are showing the continuing depletion of marine life, new State regulations that restrict fishing along the coast are throwing cold water on sport-fishing companies interested in locating to the Pier, he said.

In addition, without a breakwater to protect against possible choppy and unpredictable surf near at Pier, passengers could slip or fall climbing aboard and disembarking from boats, driving up insurance costs for leasees.

A series of storms in 1983 not only destroyed the City's breakwater, but also brought an end to boating services at the Pier, though they are still advertised at the landmark's historic sign.

While turning a profit could be difficult under the current market conditions for boating-related businesses, there is no lack of interest setting up shop at the Pier, according to Franz-Knight.

"All have expressed great interest in accessing Santa Monica's sizable visitor base,” he said. “The big question now is how to do that."

While a gangway built with private dollars could come up short, the idea is not dead in the water, yet.

"It would not be a serious problem if the request for proposal was rewritten to exclude the building of the gangway," Franz-Knight said.

Another idea floated by some would be to use City dollars to fund the project, which could add visitor dollars to a destination that for years has operated at a deficit, despite City support.

"At some point we'll need to do it to further emergency access at the Pier," Franz-Knight said. "There has been a lot of support… to make true our historic sign."

The Pier Restoration Corporation leasing committee is expected to review the application in coming weeks, Franz-Knight said.


"The increase in fuel costs is a huge concern for everyone." Ben Franz-Knight



"There has been a lot of support… to make true our historic sign."


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