Southport Marina: Innovative Design — By Land and Sea

By Diane Lea


Situated on the Intracoastal Waterway at the mouth of the Cape Fear River, the romantic coastal town of Southport, NC, is noted for its village charm, historic houses and a host of nearby attractions, including Bald Head Island and the Smith Island Museum and Lighthouse, the Historic Southport Trail, and the North Carolina Maritime Museum at Southport. Boaters find the sheltered waters of Southport located on the marine charts halfway between Wrightsville Beach, NC, and Myrtle Beach, SC.

To capitalize on Southport’s mid-point location, the state of North Carolina passed a bond issue in 1959 to fund the Port Authority’s construction of the Southport Boat Harbor. The facility was dedicated with great fanfare in 1965, but four decades later, the marina, with obsolete equipment and overdue maintenance, was showing its age. As a result, Southport Marina was often bypassed by the Intracoastal Waterway boating crowd who wanted more modern conveniences.

Preston Team Goes To Work

In 2006 a visionary team from the Cary-based Preston Development Company entered the scene and undertook the revitalization of Southport Marina with the goal of creating one of the most amenity-rich marinas in North Carolina. Project Managers Robin Rose and Thad Moore began the complex process of planning and securing state and local permits for the renovation of the declining facility.

“We purchased the lease for Southport Marina with the idea that we were looking at a $7 million remodeling of the facility,” says Rose. “We started to apply for our permits based on a remodeling plan, which included extensive water component improvements and the modernizing and expanding of the marina facility amenities. We were prepared to add new docks, a new pump-out system, high-speed diesel and gas fuel systems, as well as dedicated slip-holder parking and a drop-off area, a floating ship’s store, upscale restrooms with showers and laundry facilities for slip holders, and what everyone wants these days — cable TV/Internet, high-speed wireless Internet and 30/50 amp power enclosed in new dock boxes.” Laughing, Rose adds, “What we didn’t realize was that the planned improvements were just the tip of the iceberg!”

Addressing the issues one at a time, Project Manager Moore divided the marina redevelopment tasks into water components and land components.

“We spent two years addressing the environmental issues,” says Moore, “in­cluding dredging the entire marina to a 6-foot depth at low tide and providing storm water swales around the marina to protect the harbor water from run-off.”

Preston Development was also faced with removing and appropriately disposing of deteriorated concrete docks. Coordinating with the Department of Marine Fisheries, Preston cut the corroded 66-foot-long concrete docks into 5-foot segments, washed them to remove the accumulated petroleum residue and took them out to sea by barge to enlarge the Yaupon Reef, a prime fish habitat. The old stationary docks were replaced with floating docks made of elegant Brazilian Cumaru wood by Sound Marine, and the marina was redesigned to accommodate a transient and recreational dock with dock house, a marina office complex and a state-of-the-art dry stack storage facility.

Design Team Keys on History

While Rose and Moore were dealing with the practical aspects of creating a major marina facility on the Intracoastal Waterway, they were also sensitive to the aesthetics of the development and how it related to Southport’s historic character. Preston Development chose the Low Country look for the marina and commissioned Wilmington-based designer Bryan Humphrey to design and build the Dock­house, a major amenity to serve recreational boaters. The waterfront staff works from there to dispense fuel — including ValvTect, the highest quality marine fuel — boating necessities, ice, drinks and snacks. Located at the end of Dock C, 360 feet from the marina bulkhead, the single story structure is situated on a floating dock and features a standing seam metal roof with horizontal cupola, a bracketed end-gable roof and siding of weather resistant synthetic shakes, tested to withstand winds up to 130 miles per hour.

“We consider the Dockhouse to be the heart of the marina,” says Moore. “That’s where our waterfront staff is stationed and where we first meet and serve our boating guests.”

The Low Country theme is continued in the recently completed renovation of the Marina Office Complex, designed by South­­port architect Stephanie Van Noordt. The two-story structure, once a restaurant, now boasts a second floor porch, a handsome cupola and the same weather-worthy standing seam metal roof and synthetic shake siding used on the Dockhouse. The interiors of the handsome office complex were designed by Vanessa Jenkins, Preston Development’s sales and marketing director. Local contractor Jeff Ward built the office complex and is remodeling the old marina office. Moore notes that the Cumaru wood decking used on the office complex porch is also used to construct the 12-foot-wide marina complex boardwalk.

“We love using the Cumaru,” says Moore. “It is a dense wood that is extreme­ly weather resistant.”

Southport Marina’s boardwalk, like all its facilities, is designed for public use, and Preston Development worked to ensure the survival of the site’s distinctive live oak trees, which flank the newly renovated and expanded office complex.

“When we arrived at Southport Mar­ina, the trees were stressed and yellowing. We worked with David Nash with the state of North Carolina. He, in turn, worked with a local landscaper to trim, prune and fertilize the oaks’ root systems. They are now thriving again,” Rose reports. “The trees provide shade for picnic tables and some local families have indicated their interest in having weddings on the activity deck, which is part of the Office Marina Com­plex and adjoins the live oak park.”

Life On The Water Goes On

As a public facility, it was particularly important that Southport Marina remain open and functioning during the renovation and expansion. Preston Development is particularly proud that they were able to maintain the schedule of traditional events dear to Southport and its visitors, such as the Chamber of Commerce-sponsored King Mackerel Tournament held each October.

“We were in the throws of construction in October 2007,” says Rose, “but the tournament went on as it always has. It provides a huge boost to the local economy, and we couldn’t disturb that.”

(The US Open King Mackerel Tourna­ment was started over 30 years ago when a group of community leaders met and decided to establish an event to showcase the great fall fishing season in the South­port-Oak Island area. As they say, the rest is history. The tournament, the largest in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Virginia, now attracts almost 450 boats annually, and anglers can place in 55 categories to compete for prize money. The grand prize is $25,000 for the largest king mackerel.)

Karen Sphar, executive vice president of the Southport-Oak Island Chamber of Commerce, puts the role of the Southport Marina in a geographic and economic context.

“Our community is comprised of six municipalities,” says Sphar, “and includes the towns of Southport, Bald Head Island, Caswell Beach and Oak Island (Long Beach and Yaupon Beach), Boiling Springs Lakes and St. James.”

Sphar points out that the beaches, waterways and fishing grounds of this cluster of communities on the southeastern coast of the Brunswick Islands are a major basis for the area’s economy.

“People come here for the recreational activities and want to stay. That’s how many of our most popular residential communities got started,” says Sphar.

More Services Slated

Preston Development continues the renovation and revitalization of Southport Marina with an eye on creating more services and business opportunities for the local economy. At present, Rose and Moore are touting the marina’s 75-ton Travelift and two 25,000-pound forklifts.

“The Southport Marina Boatyard will offer bottom cleaning and painting, detailing, surveying, canvas making, and air-conditioning and engine service,” says Moore. “We have reconfigured the drop zones where boats can be placed for repair and placed them near the Travelift well.”

The marina has a list of local and area marine service providers available to the boating public; only those approved by the marina can provide service on site. At present, planning is in the works for two dry-stack boat storage options that will join outdoor storage currently nearing completion. Boat owners have access to 307 feet of staging dock space to pick up and drop off boats taken from dry storage.

As the initial phase of the renovation of the Southport Marina nears completion, Rose notes that the marina can accommodate 210 boats in the water and anticipates accommodating 350-400 boats in storage.

Keying on the view of the Intracoastal Waterway, the Preston Development team of Moore and Rose survey the handsome new marina facility with its boat launching areas, live oak park and attractive boardwalk.

“We will complete the renovation with a three-day open house to show our residents and visitors their new marina,” says Rose. “It’s a way to display this beautiful facility, which accommodates passive recreation, as well as traditional water-related recreational activities and boating. At Southport Marina, everyone has access to the water.”