Harbours – Unity is strength

A modern tourist port is not a simple marina, but rather an integrated project embracing various aspects. And to make it happen, you need a network of professionals at 360°

by Niccolò Volpati

Let’s start by making a few considerations, which, albeit well-known, are still worth repeating to start our line of reasoning. Italy has 8,300 km of coastline and more than 500 marinas and tourist ports. These offer a total of almost 160,000 berths, but not many for yachts above 24 metres in length. The first marinas to be built in Italy have just celebrated their 50th anniversary. Until about 20 years ago, the size of pleasure boats was not the same as that of a ship. Then came an unfavourable political situation from 2008 to 2010, with the government approving a transit tax for mega yachts and the result of seeing very few revenues in the state treasury and about 40 thousand boats fleeing to tourist ports in nearby France and Croatia.

However, politics has not always been unfavourable to boating and nautical tourism. In the past, in the early years of 2000, politics moved to promote a network of tourist ports by founding Italia Navigando, funded by Cassa Depositi e Prestiti.  Unfortunately, this also proved to be an unsuccessful experience: very few results with the massive squandering of public money. The story of tourist ports in Italy is a bit like the story of students who hear their teacher say “you could do better”. Great potential, but still largely unexploited. However, some people have decided not to give up and have been designing projects to give under-used boat docks a new life.

THE TOURIST PORT, WHETHER REGENERATED OR NEW, IS NO LONGER AN ISOLATED INTERVENTION BUT MUST BE HANDLED IN ALL ITS COMPLEXITY.

MDN, Marinas Development Network

A network bringing together professionals with different skills, who have all become indispensable when regenerating existing ports and redesigning the waterfront of coastal towns.
MDN’s partners are:
– Studio Legale Belvedere in Milan with more than 40 years of experience in real estate and urban planning.
– Dinamica Srl in Messina operating in the field of technical services, engineering
and environmental research.
– Legal 4Transport in Rome, which is a network of lawyers specialised in maritime transport.
– Touristic Real Estate & Marinas Development in Milan offering consultancy for investments in the construction of tourist ports.
– WIP Architetti in S. Donato Milanese, a company dealing with architectural design, urban planning, engineering, and technical services.
– Yachting Advisory in Milan, which
is focused on consultancy and services
for yachting.
– Angelo Zerilli, the captain from Rome, who worked first at the Port Authority and then in the Ministry of Infrastructure and is an expert in domain concessions and consultant for many Italian tourist ports.

Many commercial ports or fishing harbours have plenty of free berths and could be reconverted for large yachts. No huge projects, just well-targeted operations. Another option is entirely redesigning the waterfront of a coastal town to adapt it to the needs of the manufacturing and tourism industries.  In this sense, the funds of the NRRP (National Recovery and Resilience Plan) have produced exponential growth in urban regeneration projects submitted to the government by various cities. But today we must think in broader terms. The tourist port, whether regenerated or new, is no longer an isolated intervention but must be handled in all its complexity. Also because the difficulties you encounter in the implementation of the many projects that exist involve many fields of expertise: urban planning, architecture, engineering, manufacturing and tourism, as well as – naturally – bureaucracy. 

MDN, which stands for Marinas Development Network, is a network of technical and legal firms aimed at developing plans, projects, and consultancy for tourist ports, from marinas to waterfronts, to the real estate projects that these can generate.  It includes architects, engineers, urban planners, lawyers, captains and consultants specialised in maritime domains. We met with some of them and had to discuss the current state of affairs, explore the difficulties that persist, and also the opportunities that must be seized to develop nautical tourism.

IN THE MEDITERRANEAN, ITALY COMES IN ALMOST LAST WITH 2.37 BERTHS FOR EVERY 1,000 INHABITANTS, WHILE SPAIN OFFERS 2.80, FRANCE 3.87, AND CROATIA AS MANY AS 4.48.

Captain Angelo Zerilli, first at the Port Authorities and then at the Ministry of Infrastructure, dedicated a large part of his career to tourist ports. «It would be useful to transfer the programmes funded by the NRRP from the central government to the different municipalities. In Italy, coastal municipalities are as many as 650 and have every interest in developing a project to renew and adapt their waterfronts. Regenerating maritime areas could favour other interventions to modernise breakwaters to contrast the increasingly heavy storms, adapt mooring plans by creating berths for yachts over 24 metres in length, increasing the refitting offer, and promoting tourism». As far as tourist ports are concerned, we must make one necessary premise: there is a difference between equipped marinas and mooring grounds or multi-purpose ports.

THE 8,300 KILOMETRES OF THE ITALIAN COAST OFFER A TOTAL OF 780 LANDING PLACES, BUT ONLY 85 OF THEM OFFER THE SERVICES THAT CLASSIFY THEM AS ACTUAL TOURIST PORTS. 

Marinas represent only 15% of the offer of berths in Italy and are usually already able to offer all necessary services. Mooring grounds and multi-purpose ports, on the other hand, need to be reconverted to tourism to accommodate yachts and pleasure boats. The development of ports from the 1970s on has seen the rise of private individuals operating on concession and, logically, a private individual investing in a tourist port needs to see quick returns on the investment. As a consequence, many proceeded to do what is, although improperly, defined as “selling” berths. The term “sale” is improper because the domain was not sold, but rather the companies who built the marina tended to yield the berthing right for the entire duration of the concession, for instance, 50 years, instead of managing the berths long-term. This caused the emergence of so-called “parking ports”, where the typical user was the owner of a 12 to the 15-metre boat who lived about 150 km from the port and used the boat for summer cruising and weekend trips. But boating has changed and that type of user is the minority today. Not only have boats grown in size, but also chartering has become more widespread and in general, the need for transit ports is on the rise. Often a mega yacht will stay in one port for refitting, in another to spend the winter with the entire crew and then, during boating season, sail into other areas.

«The project we prepared at WIP Architetti does not add a single cubic metre of cement. We need to recover what we already have. Italy is full of ports with abandoned or only partially used docks.  Our goal is not to build new facilities, but to regenerate what already exists. Sometimes, many berths for large yachts could be recovered, other times it is only a few units, but in any case, there is always a double benefit: increasing the availability of berths for pleasure boats and having a positive impact in terms of satellite activities on the territory». Paolo Viola

«The possibility of transforming a traditional marina into a port that can meet charter needs is a reality today and needs to be assessed case by case. And also in this case, there are plenty of advantages. A closer relationship between port and city, economic returns for ground services, trade and development of shipbuilding for refitting operations, since, as is well-known, a super yacht can generate up to 60 thousand euros in daily revenues, all to the benefit of the territory that hosts it», as engineer Giuseppe Vadalà explains, an expert in economic and financial plans for tourist ports.

GLI ORMEGGI SONO 160.000, MA SOLO 44.000 ADEGUATAMENTE ATTREZZATI E QUELLI PER YACHT DA 40 METRI IN SU SONO MOLTO POCHI.

Lastly, architects Di Troia and Barbero from WIP Architetti, who are also part of the MDN network, stress the complexity of a waterfront project and the need for it to be handled by a cohesive team that can assess all aspects involved. «Today, a tourist port is not simply a marina with related services. Any project needs to involve urban planning, architecture, and engineering. You need to consider which boat sizes the port will host, how many berths it will offer, how to make a sustainable port that can also use clean energy, which services are already present on the territory and which need to be implemented. And, not least, how the port can enhance the tourist appeal of the places that host it».  It is precisely the awareness of this complexity that feeds MDN, a network of competencies which integrates highly diverse types of expertise focused on transforming historical towns, cities, and territories with the aim of not only providing a satisfying response for investors – whether public or private or public-private partnerships – but also expanding the appeal of these locations and consequently increasing social profitability for their inhabitants.

(Harbours – Unity is strength – Barchemagazine.com – March 2023)