The marine industry is one of Martin County’s “Hubs of Excellence” and vital to our history and economic strength. So we were certainly excited to learn of a new marina proposed for downtown Stuart, especially because it was on an inactive site that was once a bustling hub of somewhat mysterious marine activity. The Business Development Board supported the proposed Atlantic Point Marina, whose principals include Jeff Hardin of Straticon.
After the project received unanimous approval from the Stuart Commission (following removal of an originally proposed lighthouse feature that had generated some negative reaction), Jeff sat down with us to discuss what makes Atlantic Point Marina so unique—and why he believes it will be embraced by more than just the boating community.
So, tell us what’s special about this project?
JH: Oh, so many things. Of course, we’re excited about our vision for the property and the ways in which it will meet the needs of the boating community but also cater to the general public at large. We’ll have dry dock storage—in a facility fortified to withstand Cat 5 storms—for up to 455 boats. We’ll have dockage 105 boats—including space for vessels as long as 160 feet. But we’ll also have a restaurant, transient dockage with preference to local boaters, loads of really interesting displays of public art, expanded public waterfront access and we’ll also incorporate a water taxi stop so people downtown can reach us—or depart from Atlantic Point—without needing to get in their cars.
So Straticon is not only the builder of the site, but you’re also a partner?
JH: Yes. Straticon Marine is leading up the construction. My wife Chris and I, who founded Straticon, are partners in the project alongside Mike Nixon and Lenny Tarzia. We’re all locals and extremely excited to do something like this in our community.
How big is the overall site?
JH: The total land mass is more than 10 acres, about 2 and a half of which are submerged. The property, by our research, basically accounts for half of the City of Stuart’s total commercial lands. But that’s only part of what makes the parcel special. This was the Evinrude Testing Site for many years. When we considered the legacy the Ralph Evinrude’s Outboard Marine Corporation has on boating, it’s hard to overstate the significance.
JH: The Evinrude family created and refined the outboard motor. Ole Evinrude, Ralph’s father, invented the single-cylinder engine back in 1907. It’s a great story. He used to take his sweetheart, Bess, who later became his wife, out in a rowboat on a little island in a small lake in Wisconsin. One hot day he decided to row back to shore to get her ice cream and of course it melted before he could return. He was a natural tinkerer and mechanically inclined, so that got him working on a motorized way to power the boat. He created a two-cycle gas-powered engine that he didn’t think had much commercial value, but Bess convinced him otherwise, and that launched the early years of the company. His son Ralph later took the company to the next level.
So what took place on the testing site?
JH: Interestingly, the site was heavily protected from public view, as the company wanted to safeguard its innovations from competitors. Ed Killer, the Stuart News outdoor writer, compared the site to Area 51. The barbed wire fence that’s around the permitter today is one example of the security. You basically had scores of engineers working on designs to make better, more durable outboards. The test drivers would do everything in their power to stress the engines and see what they could withstand. We’ve got great pictures of boats catching major air over waves going out the inlet. If you were a young, hotshot boat captain with a high tolerance for getting banged up on the water, it was a dream job.
There’s some really fascinating local history here.
JH: Absolutely. And we got a lot of really cool memorabilia from the Evinrude and Johnson Outboards era when we purchased the property. The storage area—which we demoed and recycled for reuse in construction—gave some great stuff that we plan to use in the décor of the restaurant.
What’s the cost of the project?
JH: Well, this is an $80 million project. And the need is really there to support it. Martin County has 18,000 registered boaters—and there are 46,000 registered boaters on the Treasure Coast. Boat sales—which took off during the pandemic—continue to remain hot. But the dry storage options, by our research, are less than 4,000 countywide. And we could always use more slips, so Atlantic Point can provide big benefits on both fronts.
What can you tell us about the construction onsite?
JH: Well, this site in particular takes on water during king tides, so in anticipation of that as well as sea-level rise, we’re raising the entire site by three feet. And we’re able to do this with the fill we gather by dredging the basin on our property where we’re creating deepening access for larger vessels, as well as for the floating docks we’re creating to accommodate them.
How many jobs will be created?
JH: During construction, we’re estimating—conservatively—500 temporary jobs. And we’ve conducted outreach to local subs to ensure they’re aware and hopefully involved. We see a lot of opportunities here for local people to earn good money during what will be a really fun—not easy, of course, but definitely fun—undertaking. For the boat barn, it’s tilt-up construction, as the pre-fitted walls will be transported down the river to the site. It’ll really be something to see. We hope to get the news out that day. And when it’s complete, with all the public art, it will really be something.
What does the public art include?
JH: Some really good stuff. Local artist KC Scott, who specializes in marine themes, created the images of marine life that will cover the boat barn. While the ship store and the restaurant feature the Quonset-style roof modeled after the buildings Evinrude had on site, the roof design of the boat barn is what’s called a mansard roof, which will be outfitted with very elegant up-lighting that can change colors to correspond with holidays and important occasions. We’re refurbishing an existing memorial to Ole Evinrude that was on the property and giving it more prominent placement. And we’ll be using the broad, sort of canvas that the boat barn provides to project local artwork as a rolling showcase to artists in need of more exposure.
How will you know which artists to feature?
JH: We’ll be working with Nancy Turrell of Martin Arts on that, but it will provide a great element for visitors—not only to the restaurant but for the special events—live music, fundraisers, event weddings—that we plan to host. All told, Atlantic Point Marina will be something the entire community can be proud of and enjoy.