Evolving design over the decades

by Esteban Biondi
The evolution of marina planning has come up a lot in recent conversations with my colleagues and I thought that reflecting on the changes that we have observed over the last three decades, and our personal milestones, could be interesting. This article summarises stories and general reflections by several of my colleagues, each with ten to 33 years of experience working with ATM in marina planning, design and construction.

Three decades ago

Designing Charleston City Marina in South Carolina, USA was an early example of ATM’s working with nature policy. Photo: ATM

Designing Charleston City Marina in South Carolina, USA was an early example of ATM’s working with nature policy. Photo: ATM

In the 1990s, marina design was driven by applying engineering and environmental technical knowledge, coupled with the facility owner/operator requests. Existing marinas were likely built by owners or contractors, but regulatory requirements were imposing a more professional involvement. This early approach soon evolved into comprehensive analyses for marina planning and design.
- Charleston City Marina
After the “storm of the century” destroyed the Beaufort, SC city marina in 1993, “we began to rethink marina layout, planning and design from a boater’s perspective, in addition to regulatory and engineering issues,” recalls Sam Phlegar (with ATM since 1989). This sparked ATM’s holistic approach to marina design.
Not long after, ATM was retained to assist in preparing a redevelopment plan for what later became Charleston City Marina. Robert Semmes (with ATM since 1988) recalls, “after we assisted our clients with their successful proposal for a public/private partnership, we had to determine the appropriate replacement slip mix for the new and emerging market, and they needed a financial study to help secure bank financing.” ATM then started formalising its marina market studies and implemented its marina financial models.
The old marina was completely silted in due to concrete wave panel walls. The first phase of the project removed some walls to restore natural tidal currents and located slips out in deeper, naturally flushed water to minimise dredging. This is an early example of what we now call engineering (or working) with nature.
Years later, a similar solution was implemented for the Fernandina Harbor Marina in Florida, when redeveloped after damage caused by Hurricane Matthew in 2016. “We completed studies in 1996 that were partially implemented in 2001, but we were finally able to align all of the docks and boats with the currents in the post-hurricane rebuild,” recalls Semmes. When the right conditions are in place, we have seen that reconstruction allows for marinas to “bounce forward”, not only by fixing the physical defects of old facilities, but also by accommodating to new market conditions and improving resilience.
The new century
After pioneering master developed projects in the 1960s, such as Harbor Town Yacht Basin in Hilton Head (USA) and Port Grimaud in Provence (France), the approach of marinas integrated into complex property projects and the concept of recreating a “marina village” expanded significantly by the turn of the century.
- Puerto Los Cabos
In 2002, the master plan of Puerto Los Cabos (Mexico) helped us elevate the principles of integrated marina planning. After a thorough market study, the 500-berth marina concept was completely overhauled to create sectors that targeted different user profiles. “The original concept plan was largely a rectangular ‘boat parking lot.’ The synthesis of a market study, coupled with engineering considerations and coordination with the upland planner, allowed us to create a unique facility from aesthetic and functionality perspectives,” says Tim Mason (with ATM since 1993). Within a large, excavated basin, specifically designed water and land areas were planned to target residential boats, transient yachts, sportfishers and megayachts, while also creating a basin dedicated to local small fishing boats, a service yard and drystack area. This project had the first drystack facility in Mexico.
- Yacht Haven Grande
Yacht Haven Grande in the US Virgin Islands is an early example of the superyacht-specific marina concept. Photo: IGY

Yacht Haven Grande in the US Virgin Islands is an early example of the superyacht-specific marina concept. Photo: IGY

Another major evolution of marina design was the establishment of the superyacht as a market segment. In 2003, ATM was approached to implement the vision of a new superyacht-only marina in the Caribbean. “The lack of available geometrical design guidelines was a significant challenge, but was secondary to developing a market study with sufficient justification to turn this vision into a plan for a thriving investment,” Phlegar and Semmes recall. This was a major undertaking at the time. “We profiled the few facilities in the Caribbean that could accommodate superyachts, interviewed captains and produced the first analysis of the megayacht migratory patterns in the Caribbean and their connections to the North American east coast and the Mediterranean. This was the genesis of Yacht Haven Grande (US Virgin Islands), the award-winning IGY flagship marina completed in 2007 for 48 superyachts up to 350 feet (107m) in length.
Before the Great Recession
The first few years of the century experienced an explosive growth of boating, luxury yachting and marina development. ATM participated in scoping, planning, permitting and construction of hundreds of projects throughout the US and the Caribbean. In the US, Pete Peterson (with ATM since 1996) recalls that “many stakeholders collaborated seamlessly in the redevelopment of the Washington Sailing Marina (Washington DC), to complete a top-notch public marina.”
Superyacht owners, guests, captains and crew were yearning for new, specially designed marina destinations to meet their very specific needs. One of the marina projects in the Caribbean was the redevelopment of Rodney Bay (St Lucia), which added superyacht berthing capacity to an already successful sailboat marina, recalls Kirby Marshall (with ATM since 2003). The Marina at Christophe Harbour (St Kitts) started planning in 2005 and now includes berthing designed specifically for vessels in the 150 to 300 feet (46 to 91m) size range, says Justin Davis (with ATM since 2006). But probably nowhere was this change faster than in Dubai.
- Dubai
Marina development in Dubai was driven by a vision of unparalleled luxury. In 2005, the largest team ever assembled by ATM for a site visit and planning charrette was mobilised to evaluate the marina development strategy for the largest waterfront property developer in Dubai. We recommended the identification and protection of natural yachting destinations while the large-scale manmade boating infrastructure system was implemented. In response to new requirements, we also developed new analytical tools for potential demand analysis at a large scale.
Large-scale manmade boating infrastructure, as at Dubai Marina Yacht Club, is typical Dubai-style development. Photo: Emaar

Large-scale manmade boating infrastructure, as at Dubai Marina Yacht Club, is typical Dubai-style development. Photo: Emaar

We were also challenged to find new features and luxury design standards, which needed to be built in record time. Palm Jumeirah Marina East and West, with 582 berths that were designed to have a specific role in the overall system, were part of the initial studies. They included specially designed floating concrete pontoons, underwater lighting, stainless steel cleats and bollards, modern utility pedestals (with proximity cards for adding utilities to your berth), utility trays cast into the top of the pontoons, energy-saving LED illumination and wireless Internet connections. “With a continuous physical presence of professional staff in the Middle East since then, our team has been involved and remains engaged in some of the most iconic projects in the region,” says Dave Canfield (with ATM since 2004).
Missing decade
The marinas forming Palm Jumeirah in Dubai boasted new features and luxury design. Photo: Nakheel

The marinas forming Palm Jumeirah in Dubai boasted new features and luxury design. Photo: Nakheel

This summary is still missing more than a decade of recent projects and innovations, as well as too many stories and quotes. We are now experiencing a new emphasis on sustainability, environmental design and social responsibility. We are in the midst of an unprecedented shift in propulsion systems and new decarbonisation regulations. Addressing the design challenges of climate change is now unavoidable due to the looming implications of financial performance and user demand. However, we also learned over more than three decades that there are fundamentals that do not change, and we intend to continue developing new best practices that will enable sustainable growth into the future.
Esteban L. Biondi is a principal at ATM and has been with the company since 2002.


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