Marina: North Light, More than a marina

NICEVILLE — When planning and designing North Light Yacht Club, owner Joseph Winkeler wanted the project to be more than just another marina.

Winkeler, through his Ozean Development, purchased the former Lighthouse Key Marina at the intersection of State Roads 20 and 85 in April 2006 and has spent the past several years, and about $19 million, to upgrade the location to a premier establishment.

“We’re a destination resort for your family and for your boat,” Winkeler said. “North Light is really part of a bigger outlook I have for the community. I don’t really classify it like a marina.”

For those who purchase a slip at North Light, the club’s staff will prepare their boat, making sure it is fueled, cleaned and even stocked with food and drinks before taken out on the water. The club also features a 4,200-square-foot clubhouse with a bar and grill, boutique and shower facilities. There also is an outdoor pool.

The facility’s new dry storage building was built with galvanized steel and designed to withstand winds of more than 140 mph and can hold between 260 and 280 boats depending on their sizes.

North Light opened about a month ago, but Winkeler has additional improvements he plans to make to the property. The project currently uses the docks from the Lighthouse Key Marina but will eventually replace them with 57 new high-end slips.

Winkeler has collected antique nautical items for the past decade and now his personal collection decorates the inside and out of the North Light marina. Among the items on display at the marina are bronze lamps, the compass and the captain’s wheel from a 1930s Italian cruise ship, a World War II liberty cannon that will be used to start the marina’s fishing tournaments and the anchor from an old Spanish cruiser from the 1600s.

North Light was built to exceed the existing standards for a green marina and representatives from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection will be onsite this week to perform their certification walkthrough.

North Light is the first large-scale major development for Ozean, which recently moved its offices from Destin to the new marina. Winkeler and his company are also moving forward with plans to build a new four-star Hilton resort on Okaloosa Island.

The Hilton is designed with its own 140-slip boat marina that Winkeler plans to tie into North Light, allowing boaters to take off from one and dock and eat or fuel up at the other.

“One of my goals was to tie the north bay with Okaloosa Island and Destin,” Winkeler said. “The people who have boats and purchase slips at North Light would have the same rights as when we go to the Hilton yacht club and vice versa. They’re very different boating worlds. North Light has got the bayou and it’s just awesome boating whereas the Hilton project is more intra coastal- and deep sea-fishing oriented. Eventually with those two projects, and a couple more I’m working on, I’m trying to unite all of our projects together in some form.”

Despite some encouraging signs in the market, Winkeler said banks still are not loaning money to commercial properties. Instead, he said Ozean has received some quasi-commitments from non-institutional debt markets, but is still working out its capital stack, which includes cash, mezzanine financing and senior debt financing.

The project already has received its approval from Okaloosa County and can start construction almost immediately after its financing has been finalized.

“We’re getting closer and closer,” Winkeler said of Hilton financing.

by Dusty Ricketts for NWF Daily News


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