World’s First Smart Marina

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New Gulf Star Marina

Gulf Star Marina, across the Matanzas Pass Bridge from Fort Myers Beach, has served the area’s boating needs for decades. As its new 65-foot-high, almost 28,000-square-foot building nears completion, however, its cutting edge technology will not only be advantageous to local boaters, with high-tech customer amenities, it will raise the bar for the entire marina industry!

Gulf Star Marina President Todd Carroll explained that his family have been part-owners of the marina since 1991 and the sole ones for roughly the past dozen years. “Prior to buying the old metal boat barn, I know it was here since the early 1970s and perhaps as far back as the 1950s, when it was a fishhouse. We knew, however, for at least the last 15 years that the original structure was well past its prime and needed replacing, so we tore that down around 18 months ago to start the new state-of-the-art marina.”

A key component will be the marina’s new automated boat moving and storage system, featuring ASAR Technology, with components designed by Siemens. “It uses specially designed cradles in which your boat will fit,” explained Todd. “We move your boat, cradle and all, to a separate automated vertical track system that gets it to the water. Then, to re-store it, everything simply works in reverse, with the whole process taking only 4 to 7 minutes, so it will be incredibly fast!”

No Wasted Space

Along with the automated system, the new storage bays will be 80 feet deep, “designed to hold two to three boats each,” Todd said, “meaning we can handle 40-foot boats. We can put two 40-footers into one bay, or three 25-foot boats into another. A big advantage of our automated system is we can store our biggest boats in the highest bays, (something the old forklift system didn’t allow,) as the higher you go, the less effective the forklift.” The new marina’s central floor area is 42 feet wide. “This may seem narrow when moving and storing 40-foot boats,” said Todd, “but one extra foot on each side is plenty for the new automated system. Interestingly, it elevates the boats off the bay floors by only one inch, so the building will have absolutely no wasted space.”

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Construction crews work on boat storage bays at Gulf Star Marina.

The SMART Marina system offers boaters a high tech experience from start to finish. “It starts with an app,” Todd related with a huge smile! “From the app, you choose the time you want your boat to be ready, as well as if you want us to gas it up and provide ice onboard. Our Ship’s Store will have food and beverage provisions, like box lunches, so we can have those for you as well, and we hope to take this a step further by working with our neighboring restaurants so you can place your order directly with them and pick it up as you pull into the marina.”

When you are ready to return to the marina, “You activate your app again,” said Todd, “so we are ready when you arrive to soap down and scrub your boat before we safely re-store it. Our goal is to make your boating experience as fun and seamless as possible, so you can make the most of your valuable boating and recreation time. My family was in the hotel business for years, and in that profession, we would call this concierge service, to anticipate all your needs. I don’t know if that term actually applies to boating, but that is what we are striving to accomplish, with one price including everything so we do not nickel-&-dime our customers.”

Boater Amenities

In addition to its technological innovations, Gulf Star Marina will be home to “The Captain’s Club” for its members. “We are constructing The Captain’s Club so when you come to Gulf Star Marina, you feel like you are part of the family,” Todd offered. “It will have a huge television, comfortable furnishings, and men’s & women’s locker room facilities, including showers, so it will be like a combination of what you have at a golf club and your living room, with a real cool feel to it, one unique to Gulf Star Marina. The Captain’s Club will allow you to relax here after your day of boating or clean up to go to dinner at Doc Ford’s, Dixie Fish Company, Bonita’s Bill’s or any other fabulous local restaurant.”

Gulf Star Marina Ship’s Store will serve as its primary entrance, with reception and retail areas, along with public restrooms. One highlight of this area will be what Todd calls “’The Car Wash Window!’ You know how when you go to many car washes, they have windows so you can watch? We will have the same thing, as the Ship’s Store is adjacent to the vertical track system, so you can see your boat as it moves to the water. In addition to the ‘Car Wash Window,’ there will be 14 cameras throughout the building so you can monitor the entire boat moving experience.”

The Ship’s Store will sell high-end brand merchandise like “Yeti,” “and of course all things ‘Gulf Star Marina,’ including fishing and polo shirts. We plan to equip all boats with complimentary golf-like towels, complete with the Gulf Star Marina logo. The Ship’s Store will have funky hue lighting and murals up to the 18-foot-high ceiling so as soon as you enter the building, you’ll experience that ‘WOW’ feeling!”

There will be two light maintenance bays to do oil changes, boat cleanings and other light maintenance services, “as well as things like boat detailing,” Todd offered. “For five months out of the year, our daytime temperatures are in the low-to-mid 90s and it often feels hotter than that. When you are trying to hire a detailer and you can tell them they will work in air-conditioned comfort, that makes a big difference.”

The new Gulf Star Marina will also feature a garage for car parking, with one storage area to fit automobiles along with smaller boats. “This will be another exclusive benefit to our members,” Todd explained, “for the four or five days each year when parking on or around Fort Myers Beach is the most difficult, like for New Year’s Eve, Fourth of July, Shrimp Festival and Christmas Boat Parade. The automated storage system will move your car in and out for you in just a few minutes, rather than spending extra time and money looking for a parking place. Also, Fort Myers Beach is in a prime hurricane threat area, so our new concrete shell will be certified for up to 200 mile-per-hour winds and our windows at 180mph, so your boat will be safe and secure here. When we are in the storm cone, and you are worried about your family and home, your boat will be one less thing on your mind.”

February 2020 Opening Planned

“It was apparent years ago our original facility was losing its effectiveness,” Todd recalled. “It was fine for up to 28-foot boats but newer ones were regularly 35 to 40 footers. By being able to handle 40-footers, the new marina can store roughly 90% of all recreational boats. With the old barn, we were turning away so many people who had 30-foot boats that it was depressing to us as well as to them, so it is great now to say ‘Yes” to almost every person who calls rather than ‘Sorry!’ Also, the original barn was so small that near the end it was difficult to even back up or turn around the forklifts. It was obvious to us that it was not only time for a new storage facility, but that it was past time to begin.”

The contractor is GCM Contracting Solutions of Fort Myers. “They have constructed some of the best marinas in the area and have been with us every step of the way,” reported Todd. “The automated system comes from LTW Intralogistics from Germany, who we met at a robotics trade show in Atlanta over a decade ago. Over the last 25 years, they have automated warehouses of all shapes and sizes all over the Earth, so we could not have a better team!”

The new building will actually increase the number of Gulf Star Marina employees. “People wonder what will happen to that poor guy who drove the forklift once we implement the new automated system, but we will have more boats and customers than ever, so we will need more employees than ever to take care of all their needs.”

Gulf Star Marina hopes to open the new marina by February 2020. “We will work as hard as we can to not only hit that date, but perhaps be even a bit earlier than that, if possible, as we want to be available for our customers for as much of the prime time 2020 boating season as we can.”

Eyesore To A Mansion

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Gulf Star Marina President Todd Carroll, in front of the ‘Car Wash Window!’ Photos by Gary Mooney.

While the new marina will be an impressive building when complete, there is no doubt it is also an imposing structure; has Gulf Star Marina received any pushback from its neighbors, especially the adjacent mobile home park? “Not only have we not had a single complaint, but our neighbors are actually thrilled,” reported Todd. “The old metal barn was pretty unsightly, painful to look at and could be noisy. You could also smell diesel fuel fumes as well, but that will not happen anymore with the new building. It is like someone tore down that eyesore house next door and replaced it with a beautiful mansion! Whenever someone wants to construct a new marina, the reaction from others tends to be ‘Not In My Back Yard,’ but that has not been the case with our neighbors – they have just been great! I personally would have no hesitation to move my own family right next door to the new building.”

In addition to their mobile home park neighbors, Todd expressed his appreciation to Doc Ford’s and its customers. “We know that an 18-month and counting construction process has not been easy on any of them, and even though our new marina will be worth it to all of us in the end, it is a painful process to endure, so the Gulf Star Marina Family really wants to thank them for their patience.”

Todd also was thankful for his family’s support. “We have been in the hotel hospitality business forever, and actually just sold our last hotel. While I love being in the family business, this is the direction in which I now want to pursue my career, and they are all so supportive, and that means the world to me.”

In addition to receiving calls from prospective boating customers, Todd is also hearing from marina operators from all across the world, who want to visit Gulf Star Marina for themselves once it opens. “What we are building is not only state-of-the-art for our customers, but for the entire marina industry; that is how cutting edge the new Gulf Star Marina will be! It is not only the future of the marina industry; it will soon be our new reality.”

While construction will continue into early 2020, customers are already calling to book storage bays, now that the building shell is almost complete. For information or to book a bay, call 239-463-9552 or go to gulfstarmarina.com. “I am receiving several calls daily, and lately have been booking one bay almost every day, so don’t wait for us to finish construction, because it will most likely be too late. In our former family hotel business, if you fully booked the building one night, you had to start all over again the next day, but in the marina business, people stay with you for months and even years at a time, so contact us ASAP!”

 

By Gary Mooney
gary@fortmyersbeach.news