RIVIERA BEACH, Fla. - Riviera Beach is a divided town. There’s the Intracoastal Waterway that separates the mainland from Singer Island.
There are poor neighborhoods alongside Broadway just a stone’s throw away from million dollar yachts docked at the beautiful waterfront.
The reason for the latest rift is the future of the marina.
On March 11 voters will decide a referendum that would change the city charter to allow public-private development of the marina.
In 2010 voters in Riviera Beach passed a referendum that kept all of the marina public. The March 11 referendum seeks to overturn the 2010 referendum.
A yes vote would allow a private company to manage and operate the marina.
A no vote would keep marina activity in the hands of the city.
Tony Brown, the Director of Riviera Beach Community Redevelopment Agency, says it’s necessary to ask voters to overturn their 2010 decision in order to attract several hundred million dollars in private money as well as expertise to develop the marina.
"What I like about this is that we have finally got it right," Brown said.
According to Brown, the development would increase the tax base and create opportunities and jobs for local residents
Opponents of the deal fear that, by involving a private company, the public marina will become less accessible for locals.
"Surely redevelop, but don't lock us out of the process," said Bessie Brown, long-time Riviera Beach resident and a community activist.
MEMORIES OF THE PAST
For Norma Duncombe what’s going on today brings back memories of the past.
Her father, George Duncombe, was a Bahamian immigrant and experienced sailor who owned a boat slip in the West Palm Beach marina.
He’d make his money taking people on his boat to go deep sea fishing or he’d taxi passengers around the Intracoastal Waterway.
Then one day in the 1930s, he was told he could no longer dock his boat. Norma says her father ended up selling his boat for pennies on the dollar. Then he struggled to earn a living as a cab driver.
Norma Duncombe, as well as Bessie Brown fear the multi-million dollar investment will largely benefit affluent developers and out-of-towners, while barely creating jobs for locals.
READY TO SEE SOMETHING DONE
Captain Will Beck, owner of Sea Tow, has worked out of the marina for 30 years. Though he understands the concerns of people like Norma Duncombe and Bessie Brown, Beck says he’s ready to see something happen.
“There have been so many different plans, so many different ideas and everything has fallen through.” He added, “I’m ready to see something done.”
"When this happens, it ain't a question of if. There is no reason for this to not happen," said CRA director Tony Brown.
On Tuesday March 11, the voters in Riviera Beach will have the final say.