Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Lake George dock space more scarce than ever

By Zander Frost, Chronicle Staff Writer

Lake George dock space is at a premium, some say more so than ever before.

One long-time Lake George boater told The Chronicle he lost the slip he’d been renting and now “we may have to sell our boat,” because he said he can’t afford the $6,500 dock rental price he has been quoted elsewhere.

Brent Brewer, owner of Bug-U Pest Control, told The Chronicle he bought a brand new 2022 boat elsewhere but can’t find a Lake George dock for it.

“I didn’t think it would be that difficult, especially with my connections with people on the lake,” he said. “People have their boat slips and they only have so many of them.”

Mr. Brewer said he just missed out on a space at a Lake George motel. When The Chronicle called there, a staff member said they had just filled the last dock spot, at $7,500 for the summer.

Dave Wick, executive director of the Lake George Park Commission, said dock scarcity is perennial.

Pandemic has only heightened lake’s popularity

“We hear that every year. It’s been around a lot longer than I’ve been around,” he said. “There are always more people that want docks on Lake George than there are docks on Lake George.”

Mr. Wick said, “That was actually the original premise of the Park Commission’s dock regulations back in 1988, was to avoid a massive overdevelopment of the shoreline based on the amount of people that want to not trailer their boats, but dock their boats on Lake George.” Of the rising prices for dock space, Mr. Wick said, “That is totally market driven. We don’t track that.”

Some people blame the Commission’s designating as a marina any dock owner who rents even one slip, which requires providing rest rooms and trash disposal and paying a higher Commission fee.

Mr. Wick counters, “The Commission in my 10 years and Mike White’s 27 years before me has never officially sought to decommission a marina, we actually don’t have the authority to, we would have to have grounds to do so…non-compliance with their operating permit guidelines and regulations.”

Marina shift: Rent boats, not docks

Mr. Wick said, “The number of available slips on Lake George from a marina perspective has definitely gone up in the last decade because we never decommissioned marinas at our meetings, they’re only approved for new increases.

“However, by contrast, what we have seen is that our marinas have found that they can make more money doing rental boats than they can allowing seasonal berthing…and have increased, with permission from the Commission, their rental fleets.”

Mr. Wick said rental boats bring their own challenges to the lake — both in terms of safety and heavy lake use.

“Over the last five to seven years, increasing your rental fleet on Lake George has become more and more difficult to get through the Park Commission Board of Commissioners because of those exact facts of its reduction to any available seasonal berthing,” he said.

Resorts giving way to home owners

Tim Fish, general manager of the Norowal Marina in Bolton Landing, makes much the same point as Mr. Wick.

“Most of the marinas now, they make more money renting boats than they do having private boats on their docks.”

He also said many private spots to dock boats have disappeared.

“You see the Capri [resort] is gone now. People are going in and buying all these places that you used to be able to put your boat at. And now they’re just getting bought up by private individuals.”

Meanwhile, demand only increases.

“We’re sold out every year,” Mr. Fish said. “We also offer a dry dock program — It’s about 35 boats…They pay one fee to launch here for the season. And that’s even very difficult to get into lately.”

Skyrocketing demand

Mr. Wick says boating demand on Lake George is skyrocketing.

“When COVID hit, we had a high number of boat launches or contacts at Million Dollar Beach of 30,000 contacts, that was our highest year. And then when COVID hit, we had 37,000 in just one year…

“And then when people experience Lake George they say, ‘Boy, what would it cost to have a boat on Lake George? Let me see if I can find a boat slip for rentals.’

“And it is definitely difficult to find one. And that is unfortunate for all of us.”

Mr. Wick notes, “I would love to have a boat slip on Lake George myself, I do not. And it’s simply the market forces for it and the limitations that were set by the state of New York and the legislature in setting the Commission’s regulations on the number of docks per unit of shoreline…

“Even my vice chairman, who’s now acting chairman, looked for almost a year to find a spot just to put his own boat, and he’d been on Lake George for decades.”

“But he was struggling to find a spot because the place that he had been going decided to take those slips and rent them out, given permission that they received from the Park Commission.”

“So that’s just the dynamics of how things work on Lake George and marinas shifting their interests based on whatever business models they have.”

Boats by George view

“It’s been a growing issue,” the shortage of dock space, Boats By George owner George Pensel told The Chronicle. “Although I have access to roughly 160, plus or minus, spaces at my two marinas, it’s a struggle every year to fit everybody in and it seems to be getting worse.”

“Boating is very popular and Lake George is very popular,” he added. “It’s the most beautiful lake in the country and we’re very lucky to be here.”

Mr. Pensel noted, “We are…maybe even a tighter situation with boat storage. Unless we’ve sold the boat, we aren’t taking the boat storage because, for example in 2021 winter, we stored 660 boats and we’re at capacity. If I’m going to increase that number, I’m going to have to expand facilities.”

Mr. Pensel said dockage and quick launch at Boats by George are “very tight. But if there is a space that opens up, then that would be held for a new customer purchasing a boat.”

Do they guarantee boat purchasers dock space? “If we have an opening we will communicate that with them at the time of purchase. And we’re committed to that person.”

He said, “Certainly our investment that we’ve made in marina space has been designed to help us care for our customers, people who have spent a substantial amount of money to purchase a boat…

“We aren’t going to sell them a $200,000 boat one year and then the next year tell them, well they have to go out and look.”

Mr. Pensel said, “People in the past have had to work at it, but there’s been some space available. I think it’s getting tighter than it ever was.”

— Zander Frost

Rental boats bring more intensive use

As more marinas focus on renting boats rather than renting dockspace, it has impact on Lake George.

Dave Wick, executive director of the Lake George Park Commission, said:

“We’ve calculated over the decades that most people will take out their boats generally twice per week, usually for anywhere between an hour and four hours a trip versus a rental boat that is out for eight hours a day, every single day, seven days a week.”

“The number of trips per boat on a rental boat versus a seasonally berthed boat is we estimated about 15 times higher,” he said.

Also, Mr. Wick said, “Rental boats are everything that we’ve talked about for years, which are you have less experienced drivers.”

Last year, for a Chronicle story about the rise of small-scale charter boats on Lake George, Mr. Wick said they prefer the charters with trained captains to rental boaters.

Property owners who rent dock space are classified as marinas even for a single boat

When it comes to property owners renting space at their dock, the Lake George Park Commission “has two classifications of marinas — we have a Class A and Class B,” Executive Director Dave Wick tells The Chronicle.

“A Class B is, let’s say Zander has a dock on Lake George. You use half of it for your boat and you want to rent out the other half and offset some of your expenses.

“You can do that under what’s called a Class B Marina registration.”

Mr. Wick said a Class B marina owner must provide “bathroom facilities and garbage [disposal] for the person that you’re renting out to.”

“If you provide documentation of that to the Commission, then essentially you are allowed to rent your slip…That makes your dock commercial-residential, not a commercial dock,” he said.

“Instead of your $50 a year, you pay $5 a linear foot like all of the other marinas on Lake George.

“So if you had a 40 foot dock on Lake George that you’re paying $50 a year for, now you’re paying 40 times five, which is $200 a year. And then you have the benefit of making $4,000 or $5,000 a year to rent out your other dock slips,” Mr. Wick said.

“That’s been in place for more than 30 years, and it hasn’t changed.”

“Anything more than one boat is considered a Class A Marina.

“And those have to go in front of our Board of Commissioners, and then it goes out to public notice. And then if there’s concerns from the public, they have a chance to be heard. And then the commission will vote to move whether that Class A Marina or not.” — Zander Frost

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