Saturday, April 8, 2006

Suisun, Rio Vista look to the water to bring in more work

From Daily Republic // April 8, 2006
Ian Thompson

SUISUN CITY - The last thing local real estate agent John Scaff wants to do before he relaxes on the water is to spend money on gas and time in traffic getting to his boat.

Residents such as Scaff in Northern Solano County's growing towns are making waterfronts and marinas in places such as Suisun City and Rio Vista increasingly popular water destinations.

Rio Vista's marina would like to add more berths but can't. The town is working on plans to create a waterfront promenade.

Suisun City's main boat works, Adams Marine, plans to expand and smaller water businesses such as Sunset Bay Kayaks expect to move into permanent quarters because of the increased popularity of the kayak tours.

"We are certainly getting more activity coming from the waterfront," said Suisun City Community Services Director Mick Jessop about the steady increase of boaters docking in Suisun City. "We are certainly getting a lot of exposure."

Suisun City's rising stature as a water destination has allowed Adams Marine to push forward with expansion plans that will increase its boat repair and maintenance facilities."Our image is changing," said Lori Adams of Adams Marine, Suisun City's only major water-oriented business. It opened in 1997.

"We get people from all over who get their boats fixed here," Adams said. "We are getting more visiting boaters who want to know more about the waterfront, about the town."

Adams can easily see the number of water-oriented businesses expand with offerings that could include rental fishing boats and airboats that could take tourists into the marshes.

"It will be a weekend destination for boaters once more people know where we are," Adams said.

Suisun City

Solano County's growth bodes well for places such as Rio Vista and Suisun City, with more residents preferring to put up their boats locally instead of taking a half hour to 45-minute drive to marinas out of the area.

Scaff is one of those.

He moved to Fairfield in 1998 and immediately started casting about for a good marina, eventually settling on the one owned by Suisun City rather than ones closer to the San Francisco Bay.

Scaff calls the boat he berths there "our little getaway" that is only a short distance from his house.

That short commute to his boat, combined with good berthing rates and gas prices, made him an advocate of Suisun City as a good water destination.

"You go down one mile from there and you are in middle of wilderness," Scaff said of the marina's proximity to the large Suisun Marsh.

Suisun City has 151 boat slips in a marina that has been 97 percent full in the winter months and full in the summer for the past several years. It can add another 120 slips if it wants.

"We are in middle of the market," Jessop said of how much the city charges for marina berths. "We constantly stay in touch with other marinas to ensure we stay competitive."

It costs about $500,000 a year to run Suisun City's marina and about $65,000 to provide fuel to boaters. The city makes that money back, plus a small profit.

This doesn't include money the boaters spend in local stores and places such as Adams Marine.

The nearest competition is in places such as Antioch, Benicia and Vallejo which are closer to the San Francisco Bay, but the growing population and number of boaters has ensured all the marinas are near full.

While Suisun City has the room to put in more boat slips, it hasn't done it.

"That consideration is still out there," Jessop said. "We are looking at the market for recreational boating. It has been on a level line right now for where people are spending their dollars."

Even when Suisun City decides to expand its marina, it's a four- to five-year process to get all the approvals, get the bids and build the slips.

Some local boaters are convinced it is a winning idea.

"If they put in more slips for 40- to 80-foot boats, they will get a lot more money. It will bring in a lot of people from out of the area," said Scaff.

He also said that out-of-the-area people will spend more money in the local waterfront stores and restaurants such as Athenian Grill or Bab's Delta Diner.

One definite plus is the waterfront area's ability to expand with considerable vacant waterfront land still undeveloped.

"There are not too many places like this any more," said Scaff, who feels the city could support more water-oriented business.

Rio Vista

Rio Vista's main marina, Delta Marina Yacht Harbor, with its 300 berths, is more than 90 percent full with no more room to grow, according to the Harbor's Parts Manager Ben Parent.

"We have primarily been a fishing harbor but we have a pretty good diversity of boaters from sturgeon fishermen to 60-foot sailboats," Parent said.

The number of boaters is increasing in the town that lies halfway along the Sacramento River Delta between Sacramento and Benicia with the peak season being the summer, but the rest of the year remaining fairly brisk.

"That's not to say it's a hugely increasing number," Parent said. "We are staying full more often and we are booked almost every weekend. We are getting more Bay Area traffic. A lot of people come out here to get into the sun."

Rio Vista had plans to create a city-owned marina a few years ago, but those plans never came to reality due to the town's budget problems.

The riverfront town is now preparing a plan for waterfront development that involves improving the boat docks next to City Hall, according to Rio Vista Planning Manager Emi Theriault.

"There are also plans for a public promenade all along the waterfront that we may do in the future," Theriault said.

Suisun City's plans to put a master developer to work to get in more waterfront development on the downtown's vacant is expected to get the waterfront even more outside interest.

"Hopefully, we will get a lot more exposure if we complete some of the projects out there," Jessop said.

Jessop sees more marine support services coming to Suisun City to serve the boating community - ranging from a possible expansion of the fuel dock to more fishing and bait shops.

"It's moving and it's moving in the right direction," Jessop said.

Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or at

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