Marine Industries & Transportation Day Dispatch
April 9, 2014
By: Michelle Dryer
Due to a previous assignment, your intrepid reporter had to miss the first 35 minutes of this Walter Mitty-like day, and parachuted in just as the Most Formidable Class Ever (aka the Dirty/Thirsty Thirty) was starting a tour of the luxurious Crew Campus at the Rybovich Marina. Even without being present for the opening briefing I’m fully aware of the marine industry’s current economic impact (more than $1.35 billion and 20,000 related jobs) and the enormous potential for growth as the yachting industry expands in northern West Palm Beach and Riviera Beach. At the forefront of that expansion are firms like Viking Developers and Rybovich – our host for this leg of the tour.
Rybovich is a “one-stop-shop” where super yachts are docked for maintenance and repairs. Given the fact that some of these floating mansions can be as long as a football field, the process can take months. While this poses no problems for the owners (who go wherever the wealthy go while their yachts are being repaired), the crews must stay with their ships – hence the need for the Rybovich Crew Campus. Amazingly, this home away from home, which features a full-service cafe, a 3,000 foot fitness center, and a swimming pool, was built in only 30 days!
As we approached the yacht slips, we came upon the most beautiful boat I’ve ever seen. Suddenly everything got hazy, our tour guide’s voice started fading away, dream sequence music started playing, and I was sipping margaritas on my yacht – the Fortunate Sun. When we were instructed to hop in our cars to caravan to the next location, I was content leaving my pride and joy at Rybovich because I knew there was no danger of the paint job being ruined by a steel tug or some other unpleasantry (#firstworldproblems).
I was jolted back to reality when we arrived at a building on 20th street in Riviera Beach. I was freaked out because the building used to be quite the nightspot in the mid-to-late 80’s. Now, all that’s left of the “La Riviera” is the building’s façade – it’s like an abandoned movie set. Luckily we were there only to board the bus – not to examine my youthful obsession with El Debarge and Prince.
Next stop was Delta “T” Systems – the perfect place to address any ventilation-related issues that may plague the Fortunate Sun. The company, which was the first to design and manufacture engineered marine ventilation systems, has operated in Riviera Beach for 12 years and brings with it an international customer base. Michael Gabriel, Director of Marketing and Business Development, explained the system’s purpose (to eliminate moisture and “ground-breakingly” prevent corrosion via removal of salt and water) and key components (fans that range from plate to hot-tub size). The company is not only an asset to Palm Beach County (they buy local, hire local, and give to local charities); their products help the planet by reducing the size of their customers’ carbon footprint.
We loaded back on the bus and made our way to the next destination: the West Palm Beach Intermodal Center – a transportation transfer station designed to improve connectivity between public buses and trains. As soon as we arrived we were hastily shepherded to our “private” Tri-Rail train car. Much to my delight, I discovered that a private chef came with the deal. I made it to my seat, with my delicious Café Joshua sandwich in hand, and the presenter’s voice was drowned out by the sound of the air conditioning (cue dream sequence effects). Instead of the “world’s shortest Tri-rail trip,” we were passengers aboard the Orient Express and my “comfortable, casual, and sporty” attire was replaced with an elegant 1930’s ensemble (hat, gown, gloves, etc).
As I used my lace fan to cope with heat (no a/c in the 1930’s), our presenters briefed us on the Tri-rail system, walkable downtowns, and the merits of non-motorized transportation. We learned, unsurprisingly, of the connection between Tri-rail ridership and gas prices, and that the trains will travel as far south as the Miami airport by summer 2014. In keeping with the Orient Express theme, Bret Baronek (Palm Beach MPO Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator) added some morbid facts to the mix: 7% of local crashes involve cyclists, 5% of whom are hit from behind. The sight of a familiar face (Tomas Boiton) bought me back to reality just in time to learn of the Children’s Services Council and the Citizens for Improved Transit’s efforts to increase access to transportation among those who need it the most.
Back on the bus and on to Flight Safety International. I wasn’t expecting much (after all, it’s not like we were actually going to pilot an aircraft), as I joined the class in Flight Safety’s lunchroom. My expectations were further diminished when our guide, Casey Duke, apologetically explained that he was filling in for someone else and would keep everything really simple. The promise of simplicity was kept as we viewed the locally-manufactured S-76 and S-92 helicopters and learned that the flags in the room represented the 36 countries that send pilots for training. It was also fascinating – who knew that Black Hawks (as in “Black Hawk Down”) are also manufactured by Palm Beach County-based Sikorsky?
By the time we got to the classroom Casey had begun to warm to the role of tour guide. Despite announcing that he could not activate the pilot training simulation program, we noticed that we were “flying” as he talked. It was video-game cool. Then it was on to the “real” deal – the Level D simulator (dream sequence time). As I walked down the ramp in my flight-gear, I pondered my “role-model status” as one of the nation’s few black, female pilots. I boarded the fixed-wing Piaggio Avanti II and came crashing back to reality (pardon the pun) when I remembered that I’m actually afraid of heights.
Considering that our last destination was the Palm Beach Metropolitan and Planning Organization (MPO) building on Jog road, I was certain that our adventure (and the need for dream sequence effects) ended at Flight Safety International. With my trusty I-Pad in hand, I was prepared to take notes like a dutiful government drone. Despite the overwhelming feeling of déjà vu when Charles Frazier began his talk, everything went as expected. We learned that the county spends more than $12 million per year in an effort to make Palm Tran “safe,” “efficient,” “affordable,” and “reliable.” We also learned that none of the County’s 300 bus stops with shelters are located in Pahokee and that it would almost take divine intervention to change that fact.
We were led to the Traffic Management Center and (much to my surprise) things got all gauzy and “dream sequency” again. The Center was the confirmation of every conspiracy theorist’s worse nightmare – they are watching you and they are deliberately making you late for work. In my “Emma Peel” cat suit (Google it youngsters) I listened intently as Dan “Dr. Evil” Weisberg and Steve Freeze (Mr. Freeze?) explained how they control
the world 1,100 traffic signals located throughout Palm Beach County. They can see everything with their fiber-optic network – even bridges, which they don’t care too much about: “What’s to monitor? They go up, they go down,” explained Dan Weisberg (aka Dr. Evil).
Our final presenter of the day was the eloquent Beth Kigel who explained statewide transportation priorities. Beth not only helped to us to put the entire day into context, she also made us think seriously about the future. Florida, which has the best transportation infrastructure in the nation, will benefit greatly from the Panama Canal expansion and the ability to create deep-water (and inland) ports. This will be a boon to the trade and logistics sector. Despite these positives, there are major concerns – declining fuel tax revenues being chief among them. “Fueled” by an increased use of electric and hybrid vehicles, the diminished tax income will result in less money to maintain roads and bridges. Consequently, we’ll have to seriously consider controversial strategies such as mileage-based user fees or develop other viable solutions – a task that requires the type of wisdom and thoughtfulness possessed by true leaders.
A heartfelt thanks to our generous sponsors at the Rybovich Super Yacht Marina, the Florida Movers and Warehouseman’s Association, Café Joshua, and the Palm Beach MPO; and our chairs and committee members for a truly fantastic voyage.