Local News Story About New 48 Hours Free Dockage at Darien City Docks
MCIDA and DDDA foresee increase in river visitors to Darien’”
Using Darien waterfront docks as business magnets
By Genevieve Wynegar
Two weeks ago, at the request of the Darien Downtown Development Authority (DDDA,) and after a lengthy discussion in their monthly work session meeting, the McIntosh County Industrial Development Authority (MCIDA) voted to immediately begin offering free 48-hour boat dockage to transient boaters traveling the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) at the MCIDA’s outside dock area on the east side of the Darien River bridge.
The DDDA had previously voted to do the same at their docks on the western side of the bridge, back in February.
Both development authorities are hoping that the two-night free dockage (first come/first served with registration) will boost the tourist business in downtown Darien, as well as throughout the city.
Both groups are basically using a plan developed by Elizabeth City, N.C., which is a town a bit larger than Darien, but also located, like Darien, a few miles inland from the ICW. Darien is located approximately seven miles from the ICW.
`Not being right on the ICW is a situation we need to recognize,’ DDDA board member Capt. Phillip Kempton said in an interview last week, `but, like Elizabeth City, it doesn’t have to be a barrier to boat traffic.’
Kempton was referred to the North Carolina town’s boating policy, when he started researching boating and docking policies along the eastern seaboard, and a friend recommended the town.
Capt. Kempton works as the dock master at the Jekyll Island wharf, and also operates dolphin tours and wine and cheese boating tours from the Darien docks.
Kempton and his wife, Patty, moved to Darien full-time in 2003. He was immediately asked to become a director on the Chamber of Commerce, which he did.
`When I was on the chamber board, we dug out a study, done by some consultants, in 1990, I think, for the county.
`It was about a way to bring businesses to Darien. Back then, they said that this area was best suited for tourism, as opposed to industry or agriculture.
`But, I didn’t see that happening. Being a boater, traveling up and down the ICW, we would make trips down to the Bahamas and all, and I was thinking ‘˜We’ve got beautiful boat docks here, but very, very few people are coming.
`I started trying to figure out why, and perhaps where we needed to advertise, etc. It’s really been on my mind since back then.
`I unsuccessfully tried to lease the docks from the MCIDA in 2007, to move us forward, and I’ve been trying to work something out for the waterfront docks every since.
`I’ve been really involved. I spent two terms on the Chamber of Commerce board, then a term on the Board of Elections, but my passion is tourism.’
He went to work for A.T. & T. right out of high school, went through management training, and spent 30 years working for the company as an `idea man.’
`My job was to ‘˜think out of the box,” he laughs. `And, I still find myself doing that.
`The Elizabeth City waterfront marketing plan was started in 1989,’ Kempton stated, `and has been very successful for that community. There are a lot of similarities between our two waterfront cities.’
Wally Orrel, executive director of the MCIDA, wholeheartedly agrees with Kempton’s assessment.
`It’s most definitely worth a try,’ he states.
`And, if it will help bring new tourists to McIntosh County, it’s a great thing.
`So many people have found us, without trying to, and moved here, bought a house and are full-time residents of McIntosh County, now.
Orrel notes that the MCIDA outside docks are `periodically used now, but it’s not a high demand item. We’re not making a lot of money from them, so this may be a great way to bring more tourist dollars to our county businesses.
`Right now, our inside docks, which are available for longer term stays, are about 50 to 60 percent full, so we have more space available there, too.’
Both men noted that signage exists on both docks, but say that they will be getting together soon, to develop unified common instructional signage for boaters.
`We don’t have showers or laudromats right there, or a grocery store,’ Orrel noted, `but we do have the bed and breakfast hotels, and some people do like to get off their boats and spend the night in town. We have a laundromat and a grocery store up the road.’
`These are people who are on these boats for a long period of time. They aren’t looking for somewhere to wash clothes.
`Not having fuel (at our docks) was something that I thought would be an issue. But, according to Phillip, who understands the market, boaters traveling from New England may only stop a couple of times for fuel during their trip, so they are not filling up with fuel at every stop.
`In other words, if they are in a hurry, they’re not going to come and see us. These are people who are taking their time, looking for a new experience, and have the time to do it.’
Both Orrel and Kempton noted that most visiting boaters would be docking during daylight hours, not at night.
Kempton is hoping to develop a group of individuals, possibly retirees, to serve as volunteer greeters for the new boat tourists.
`Elizabeth City has a group called `the rose buddies,’ who greet the transient boaters when they dock, or shortly afterward, and pass out maps of the city, information and coupons for waterfront businesses, etc.
`And, we can do that, too. David and Morrow Butler have retired to Darien, and they have spent much of their lives on the water, traveling the ICW. They know all about it.
`There are provisions in the DDDA rules and regulations for a dock master. So, what we thought was that this might be great for a group of ‘˜Darien rose buddies.’
`David said, ‘˜I would love to do that,’ and he has asked to be the ‘˜volunteer dock master’ at both docks.
`David walks the docks every day. He has since we started talking about this idea months ago,’ said Kempton.
`What he will do, is organize a group of volunteers, perhaps retirees, to become our ‘˜Darien Rose buddies’ and take turns and go down there every day to greet the boating folks, hand out the maps of Darien, and maybe hand out other community information.
`If you talk to those people in the Elizabeth City Convention and Visitors’ Bureau, they’ll tell you, ‘˜We love the boaters. They come in, everybody is so nice, they spend their money and then they go,’ he laughed.
Kempton notes that in all the years that Elizabeth City has been attracting the transient boaters, since 1982, they have never had a negative incident involving the boaters.
He also stated that Elizabeth City surveys show that transient boaters spend several hundred dollars, each, on average, when they stop at locations along the ICW.
And, the city’s boating tourism plan has been so successful, they had to build an additional marina.
Kempton explained, `For example, we have a lot of boating groups, or clubs, that come to Jekyll for a couple of nights, or a weekend excursion. They are looking for something to do. They will come, go out to eat, and spend their money shopping on Jekyll Island.
`And, if you think about it, there is nothing located close to the Jekyll Island wharf. It’s not within walking distance of anything. Here in Darien, so much is within walking distance.’
`There’s no reason why they couldn’t come to Darien.’
Kempton explains that once they are here, the dock master could let the volunteers know they are here.
He also said that many boaters carry bicycles on their boats, to travel around the small towns where they dock.
`Also, a big selling point for transient boaters coming to Darien, will be the First Georgia Hardware,’ Kempton noted. `I don’t know of another boating stop that has a boating store within two blocks of the dock.
`On Jekyll, they have to get a taxi or other transportation to take them into Brunswick if they need boating supplies.
`Here in Darien, we also have several nice restaurants, a post office, a wine and cheese shop, bed and breakfast facilities, a day spa, churches, free bathroom facilities at several locations’”all within walking distance of the dock.
`And, for those with bicycles, they can access all the stores, restaurants and facilities further north on Hwy. 17, like the discount and grocery stores, or the laundromat.’
He notes that the MCIDA docks do require that boaters register at the MCIDA or at City Hall.
He also stated that a lot of the boats coming here will be sailboats, and unable to get under the Darien Bridge, so they will have to dock on the east side, at the MCIDA docks.
Kempton agreed with Orrel that unified signage at both docks will help the project along.
`We already have an e-mail address which is firstname.lastname@example.org and that will be used for all of it’”both docks.’
`It’s first-come, first-served, and you don’t have to make reservations in advance. In fact, you can’t,’ laughed Kempton.
`You’ve got no people paid to worry’”it’s not like we need to spend any money. The money’s going to come in, and everything that needs to be spent has been spent.’
`The MCIDA is very excited about partnering with the DDDA,’ Orrel concluded. `We need to do more things like this, working together in the community, not finding reasons to be different, but finding ways we can work together to better the business environment in Darien and McIntosh County.’