CAROLINA BEACH — In response to a poll of residents and visitors earlier this year, the Carolina Beach Business and Economic Development Committee is researching ways the town could provide more ‘dock and dine’ development projects along the municipal marina.
The committee met last week to discuss ways the town could leverage future repairs to the marina, provided by a $2.1 million grant announced earlier this month, by encouraging developers to revitalize properties surrounding the marina. Committee members also discussed options to make it easier for people to dock their boats so they can shop, eat, and cruise the boardwalk nearby, according to the committee’s chairwoman, Maureen Lewis.
“Other towns have great marinas — Wrightsville Beach, Beaufort, Southport. And it would add yet another reason for visitors to come to Carolina Beach … As we repair it, we certainly want to encourage boat traffic. And to encourage boat traffic, you need a destination,” Lewis said.
Additional waterfront restaurants would not only draw more visitors to the town, she said, but would also provide more dock spaces to enable boaters to park, walk around downtown, and spend money at its businesses.
Lewis pointed to an empty building located on the southwest end of the marina, once occupied by Sharkies Burgers and Brews, as a prime example of a property that is not effectively exploiting its premium location and second-story waterfront view.
“That’s a property that if somebody had the money to invest — there’s huge potential there. It’s a diamond in the rough,” she said.
Both Lewis and Kim Ward, the town clerk, said businesses using the building seem to “change every year.”
In response to the committee’s ideas, Town Manager Bruce Oakley acknowledged that most people like the idea of water view dining, but “buildable space around the town marina is somewhat limited.”
“It will be interesting to hear their ideas,” he said.
Lewis emphasized the committee acts in an ad hoc capacity and does not set town policy, but instead makes recommendations to Council. She said that she would defer to Oakley’s judgment and experience on this particular matter, especially due to his prior role as city manager at Southport, “where there is certainly more space to dock and dine.”
“However, I would think there is at least one restaurant opportunity with dock and dine potential,” she said.
She said there is one restaurant on the east side of the marina, Stoked, that has proven to be a true economic driver because of good management and a good menu.
“How do we get more of those kinds of businesses on the marina?” she asked.
The committee conducted the poll in March and had prepared a presentation of various recommendations for Council, but the meeting was cancelled as the Covid-19 pandemic began to shut down the state’s economy and delayed government meetings. According to Lewis, the committee is preparing a new presentation that takes into account the needs facing residents during the pandemic — like 15-minute parking spaces near downtown restaurants for takeout customers and expanding outdoor dining space.
“Things have changed,” Lewis said. “The way people do business has changed; expectations of consumers have changed. So we’re looking at that, saying, ‘What’s the new normal? And what are the recommendations we propose to the town?'”
The committee will conduct a new poll next month, according to Lewis. The March survey also found that residents had a strong preference for healthier and more diverse restaurant options in the town — “restaurants that serve more than ‘fried food, pub food, and beer,'” according to a synopsis of the survey, which included answers from 240 residents, 33 visitors, and 17 local businesses.
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