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Gulf Star Marina passes the test

Automated boat storage and delivery system opens for business

July 29, 2020
Nathan Mayberg ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

At 65-feet high and overlooking the Matanzas Pass Bridge, Gulf Star Marina is impossible to miss. From its perch overlooking the bay next to Doc Ford's Rum Bar & Grille in the unincorporated section of Fort Myers Beach on Fisherman's Wharf, more than two years of construction is wrapping up.

With a temporary certificate of occupancy in hand, developer Todd Carroll and the 27,000 square-foot Gulf Star Marina have begun taking in boats into its automated storage building. The building can house 100 boats and has commitments to store 53 boats as of July 23, Carroll said. Approximately 20 boats have been placed there so far.

Carroll said the marina's automated storage and retrieval system for delivering the boats in and out of the water, is the first of its kind in the world. This is the first marina in Southwest Florida to utilize an automated storage and retrieval system, he said. The system will retrieve boats and have it in the water in approximately seven minutes. The main construction has been done by GCM Contracting Solutions in Fort Myers including the concrete building. Carroll estimated about 200 workers have been on the site through the process.

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Carroll has kept the name of Gulf Star Marina, which belonged to a smaller boat storage facility on the property, which his family owned. His father, Jim, bought Gulf Star Marina about 30 years ago with a group of partners. His family has been focused on the marina business after spending decades in the hospitality industry, having previously run hotels throughout Lee County. This is the third marina the family has been involved in.

While the marina and storage business is operational, Carroll is still awaiting a certificate of occupancy from the county for the ship store and Captain's Club which will be on the premises. Carroll also needs approval from the Army Corps of Engineers for the second phase of floating dock slips he wants to put between the marina and Doc Ford's which sits on property he owns. Carroll has built the first phase of the new dock along the marina for the slips. He expects the second phase to take about another year until the plans are approved, in order to replace 44 wet slips with floating docks. The docks will be manufactured by Golden Docks and will take about a week or two to install.

Carroll is looking forward to getting approval for the Captain's Club, which he said will be a "neat place to hang out" with comfortable seating, giving boaters a cool spot to get out of the heat or the rain. There will also be restrooms for boaters and their guests with showers "if you want to freshen up," Carroll said. The retail store will have fish and tackle equipment, as well as food and beverages.

The design process for the multi-million dollar project was about 10 years in the making. Carroll, whose family has roots in Cincinnati and Tennessee, has been involved in the marina business since the 1980's.

The attractions of the automated process include less physical activity on the part of the owner and the marina, as well as a cleaner experience for the boat, Carroll said. "Everything inside the building is going to be fully automated," he said. "No more forklift. No more diesel soot."

The storage building can handle boats as long as 40 feet and about 16-feet high. The noise will also be minimal. "It's a quiet, electrical system," Carroll said.

The building received its temporary certificate of occupancy after the facility's fire emergency foam system underwent a successful test by the Fort Myers Beach Fire Department, with the foam rising 26 feet high within four minutes, Carroll said. It took a few days to get the foam out, a process they hope to never repeat.

Boating is one activity that has seemed to thrive in Florida during the COVID-19 pandemic according to those in the business. "The boating industry is on fire," Carroll said. "These dealers don't have enough boats."

Carroll said he feels fortunate to be in a business that appears to be COVID-19 resistant. "It's a great way to socially distance. It's just you and your family. You just go on your boat and enjoy nature," he said.

"We're open. I have gas. I have ice. I have the ability to launch and retrieve boats," Carroll said.



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