MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — Cutbacks in luxury items due to the slumping economy are perhaps most visible at southern New Jersey’s marinas, where many boat slips are going unfilled at the peak of the summer boating season.
The new owners of Avalon Marine Center in Middle Township’s Avalon Manor are responding to the changing times by diversifying.
“It makes you think outside the box,” said Paul K. Hoffman, general manager.
Owner Phil Risko, 49, of Middle Township, bought the former Avalon Point Marina last year with his partners, Paul DeBlasio, Anne Tirri and Alice Filloon.
“There are a lot of moving parts,” Risko said. “This has traditionally been a pleasure-craft marina. We’re converting it to a marine center.”
Risko spent his career on the water with businesses such as the marine construction and salvage company, Northstar Marine and Sea Tow, a marine-towing service based in Sea Isle City.
His four-acre marina at the end of Old Avalon Boulevard just off Townsends Inlet offers traditional marina services, including rental of its 106 slips, a fueling dock, off-season boat storage, engine repair and boat maintenance, and retail sales of fishing and boating gear.
Among his 18 employees are boat mechanics who can repair or service engines, re-canvas a boat’s top or add a new coat of paint. The marina accommodates boats as big as 80 feet or more. About 80 percent of its customers are recreational boaters.
But his marina also leases warehouse room for newer types of marine industry, including New Jersey’s burgeoning offshore-wind industry.
“We have the space. We’re trying to make this an activity site for offshore-wind farms,” Risko said.
The marina is storing one of the scientific buoys used by Fishermen’s Energy, a Cape May company that wants to build windmills off Atlantic City. Several other companies are pursuing offshore wind in New Jersey.
Risko wants his marina to be ready to address the needs of this nascent offshore-wind industry. He is converting a former scallop boat for use as an all-purpose boat to transport workers or gear to offshore construction sites.
His marina also provides space for a company called GeoMarine that conducts marine surveys for wildlife on behalf of industry and government. Offshore wind farms are obligated to determine what impact, if any, their windmills will have on birds and marine life.
Risko said his marina is well-suited to these kinds of partnerships.
That will strengthen the marina as competition intensifies in Cape May County, where the number of marinas has increased from 31 to 34 since 2001 and staffing has risen from 176 to 211 employees, federal Commerce Department data show.
Avalon Marine also sells lines of new fishing and pontoon boats. The pontoon boats are especially popular for back-bay parties and family outings. These boats are built with a third hull for better maneuverability than older versions, Risko said. And they are powerful enough to tow water skiers or inner-tube riders.
Hoffman said the marina’s goal is to fill niches that provide consistent and steady income and work throughout the year, not just during the peak boating season between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
Hoffman, 56, of Dennis Township, worked at several other marinas in Cape May County before joining Avalon as general manager. His son, Aaron, is following in his footsteps as the marina’s parts manager.
“As the service side drops off while you’re waiting for boats to arrive for winter storage, the other parts of the business are operating at breakneck speed,” Hoffman said.
Avalon Marine Center
Location: 701 Old Avalon Blvd., Middle Township
Owners: Phil Risko, Paul DeBlasio, Anne Tirri, Alice Filloon
Employees: 10 plus 8 seasonal
Revenues: Not disclosed
Contact Michael Miller: