Unsure of their place in the long term future of their marinas, the situation is forcing operators to stall marina development plans and claw back time with applications for extensions on the concession deadline. Long-term concern is coupled with a more immediate problem: from 2014 a new three-band tax system on berths could increase rates for marinas in southern France by up to 270 per cent from the current rate.
Alex de Boom, manager of Port de La Rague, Cote d’Azur, where only eight years remain to concession expiry date in 2021, says he has serious concerns about the future:
“Theoretically [once the concessions expire) the ownership of the marinas will go back to the French State, and per contract, the concession holders are obliged to deliver the harbour works in perfect condition."
“The French State, through its local representatives could then decide to start operating the marinas themselves which, in my opinion, would be cause for disaster. Or probably more likely, there would be a new public offering under European rules.”
De Boom says it all depends how the political and economic climate develops, and what the perception of the super rich and their yachts will correspondingly be. At the moment, the climate is not good, he said: “Yacht owners are considered to be rich people and Mr. Hollande has publicly expressed that 'he does not like the rich'.”
De Boom, like many marina operators, has ‘shelved’ grand plans that would improve la Rague's and add berthing. In 2007 the Cannes marina launched a €100 million plan to create 150 moorings for yachts of 25m upwards. “What was feasible at the time represents an unacceptable risk today, as a result of the global financial crisis and the current political situation,” he said.
Instead, these marinas are trying to buy time with extensions on their concession deadlines. The Port of La Napoule has secured a five year extension and others (St. Jean Cap Ferrat, La Rague and Bormes les Mimosas) are trying for it, but the reprieve requires getting French authorities to request permission on their behalf. And as de Boom points out, they have not proved to be particularly supportive of the marinas’ plight.
In 2011, the French government said it would fund 4,000 new berths as part of the Ports de Plaisance Exemplaires project. Funding would be given to marinas that could prove sustainable development and protection of the coastline, but De Boom says this was ‘just window dressing’:
“This project was originated to fool the press and public that the French government was serious about adding capacity. [The only] projects accepted was a boat silo underwater (Beaulieu) and the Moby Deck flexible floating berth project in St. Jean Cap Ferrat, which in my opinion will never see the light of the day. At any rate, with the exception of berths over 25 metres current capacity seems to be sufficient.”
In parallel to the problem of superyacht marina concessions is a predicted property tax increase on the berths paid by the marinas. This month, France’s Neptune magazine reported that from 1 January 2014, a new three-banded property tax system will place Mediterranean marinas in the highest tax band, requiring marinas to pay 110 Euros per berth. One marina, Le Port D’Agde in the Languedoc-Roussillon region, has calculated an increase from between 163 per cent minimum to 270 per cent maximum on the current berth tax rate it pays.
Not everyone is doing badly from the situation however. Inwards in Monaco reports a buoyant berth sales market as time runs on concessions and prices plummet:
Antioco Ravano, at Inwards in Monaco said:
“It’s a big market. It’s impossible to rent on a long term basis, so there’s a long waiting list in the main marinas in South of France.”
“The only way to have the berth is by buying it and now prices are dropping because it’s getting closer to the end of the concessions.“