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FONTANA — Boaters arriving in the Abbey Marina this season will find dramatically improved facilities, after a $7 million overhaul of the waterfront attraction.

Boat-owner members of the marina association agreed to fund sweeping upgrades of the facilities to create a more comfortable spot for themselves, their guests and visitors.

With some members paying upwards of $100,000 to join the marina, the just-completed improvements also serve to fortify each member’s investment in a strategic piece of real estate — a place to park their boats.

Marina officials say the project has re-established Abbey Marina not only as the nicest harbor on Geneva Lake, but also one of the best in the Midwest.

“It looks great,” harbormaster Ed Snyder said. “It looks like a harbor you’d pull out of a magazine.”

Snyder joined other marina officials and members May 27 for a grand reopening ceremony to commemorate completion of the historic project. It is the most significant upgrade of the facilities since the Fontana harbor opened half a century ago.

The harbor has new piers, sidewalks, seawalls, utility connections, landscaping, concessions and restrooms.

David Prudden, president of the marina association, said boat owners were so anxious to see the improvements done, they pulled their vessels out of the water early last fall so that construction crews could get started.

Now that the work is done, Prudden said, the boaters returning for this season will be stunned by the transformation.

“Everyone’s going to love it,” he said. “In my book, it’s the best harbor in the Midwest. I don’t think there’s anything that compares with it.”

Opened in 1963, the Abbey Marina was converted in the 1990s to an association in which boat owners purchased their piers and agreed to share ownership of the harbor, much like a condominium complex.

The marina operates adjacent to the Abbey Resort and Avani Spa, although there is no common ownership or management.

Today, about 250 marina members own the 407 boat slips, including several owned by Gordy’s Marine for renting to boat owners.

Members of the marina had long been aware that the facilities were due for repairs and updates. The wooden piers were deteriorated and wobbly, the sidewalks were cracked and tattered, and the timber seawalls were worn and crumbling.

After years of discussion and planning, officials last year proposed a comprehensive overhaul that would be funded with onetime special assessments of between $8,200 and $19,500 per boat owner. Combined with some money the association had saved up, the project would cost $7 million.

The owners overwhelming agreed and enthusiastically turned in their money.

“It was a big buy-in,” Snyder said. “Everybody knew we had been talking about it for so long.”

Then came the tough decision of how to execute the project without disrupting normal marina activities. Officials considered staging the project in phases over several years, but they instead opted to try completing the work all at once.

LPS Utilities & Marine Construction of Woodstock, Illinois, was chosen as the general contractor, and MariCorp U.S. of Shell Knob, Missouri, won the job of replacing all the boat piers.

Getting started last October as soon as boats were out of the water, crews worked 12-hour days in sometimes difficult weather conditions to stay on schedule. 

Tom Merryman, owner of LPS Utilities, said he had about 50 workers at a time assigned to various elements of the marina project.

“It wasn’t easy,” he said, “but it had to get done.”

Snyder said he credits the contractors and their employees for completing in eight months what might have otherwise taken three to five years in different phases.

“It was sheer manpower,” he said.

The project was finished and ready for boaters as they returned over the Memorial Day weekend for the start of the summer boat season.

Merryman said the project presented unusual challenges, as workers encountered hidden seawalls, buried utility lines and other unknown obstacles that had accumulated over the life of the 55-year-old facility.

Each time, however, the contractors and marina management identified quick solutions and kept moving forward with the work.

Merryman, himself a boat owner who rents a slip at the marina, said he feels a strong connection to the harbor. He used to visit as a child, and he has kept his own boat at the Abbey Marina for the past 20 years.

Knowing the poor conditions that existed in recent years, Merryman said he is happy to have played a part in the effort to fix the place up.

“I’m very proud of this,” he said. “I think it turned out fabulous.”

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