On a quiet day at the Marina del Rey fuel dock, a gaggle of pelicans takes its rest, bobbing on the rickety floating platform. But the calm is deceptive.
About 10,000 vessels a year 6,500 for fuel and the rest for bait stop at this facility, a cornerstone of the marina since 1962. The closest source for fuel not carried on board is a dock nine miles away in Redondo Beach.
Lately, however, the credit crisis has caused uncertainty for the 1.5-acre landing.
Pressed by the county to make major improvements before his lease expires in two years, operator Greg Schem has big plans. For about $5.5 million, Schem figures that he can double the dock space, add high-speed pumps with power boxes and build a floating 3,300-square-foot store.
County and state regulatory agencies have approved the plans. Recently, however, Schem hit a snag that other Marina del Rey developers fear could sink them, too: financing the project in an economic climate that has stemmed credit for construction.
Originally, Schem said he had a deal with conglomerate Textron Inc. to provide a construction loan, but that deal fell through amid the banking and financial crisis in September. He then tried negotiating a loan with Bank of America, but that arrangement after costing $50,000 in legal and appraisal fees also fell through. Now, Schem is "shaking the bushes" for any lenders he can find.
"I've got some interest from a local bank, but the terms will be very onerous," said Schem, president of Harbor Real Estate Group, which holds other marina leases. "I'm still looking for financing and hard-money alternatives, such as high-interest loans."
The operator is also frantically negotiating with county officials to extend the deadline for optioning his lease, which now falls in three months. Until that's resolved, spending more money doesn't make sense, he said. "I have to operate in a liquidation mode. If a crane goes bad, I can't replace it I'm not going to put up $400,000 for a dead lease."
County officials declined to comment on how the negotiations are going, but acknowledged Schem's project is a priority.
"The fuel dock is a critical component of the boating community in Marina del Rey and we'd like to see that project move forward," said Santos H. Kriemann, director of the Department of Beach and Harbors.
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