Wekiva Marina reborn as Wekiva Island

Sentinel Staff Writer

Bill and Mary Sue Weinaug hope their legacy will be the rack full of green canoes, the bustling riverside bar, and the rows of wooden Adirondack chairs on 6 acres bordering the Wekiva River in Seminole County.

The Weinaugs are the new owners of the property known for more than 40 years as the Wekiva Marina, a well-known river spot that had fallen on hard times during the past decade. In 1999, the restaurant on the site burned to the ground; palms along the river are still black with fire damage. A bait shop had degenerated into a dive, and aging rental canoes were mottled with patches.

Having renamed the property Wekiva Island — it's surrounded by water thanks to the river and a short canal — the Weinaugs want to bring back the kind of old marina where families can spend a day canoeing or an evening eating ice cream and watching for wildlife.

"We knew we had to clean it up and make it a special place again for people to come out," Bill Weinaug said.

Bill Weinaug, a founding partner of the Maitland-based engineering firm X-nth, was looking for investment opportunities in 2006 when a friend suggested purchasing the Wekiva Marina. The Weinaugs bought the property for $1.4million last September.

Since then, the couple and their five children have gutted the bathrooms, painted walls and ripped up asphalt for a patio and sand volleyball court. Environmentally friendly features such as low-flow toilets and a rainwater cistern will be accompanied by placards explaining to customers how they can incorporate them into their homes, Bill Weinaug said.

Frank Cote, 50, who has been fishing at the marina for more than two decades, has seen the property at its worst. "It was people like me, people who had boats docked here, that sort of kept it together," he said.

Cote, a freelance commercial painter, now spends most of his time as the island's handyman, painting walls or repairing canoes. He plans to start taking Wekiva Island visitors on his boat for fishing and wildlife tours, once he gets his captain's license.

Friends of the Wekiva River Inc., a nonprofit river-preservation group, had part of its annual Wekiva Riverfest at Wekiva Island in early March.

Previous owners had refused to work with the organization, but the Weinaugs are "tree huggers like us," Friends Secretary Leslie Long said.

Long, who said she remembers the "seedy bar" feel of the old marina, looks forward to the eco-friendly atmosphere of the new business.

Wekiva Island offers canoe and kayak rentals, sand volleyball and riverside cabanas. The Weinaugs also want to host small art festivals and open a small smoothie and ice-cream shop, though current zoning restrictions prohibit new construction in the area.

The new family business has yet to turn a profit, but the Weinaugs talk less like concerned entrepreneurs and more like vigorous environmentalists.

Wekiva Island "is all about our future generations, and what we do today and how it impacts our children and our children's children," Bill Weinaug said. "That's why we have to take care of this place."

Jennifer Larino can be reached at jlarino@aol.com or 407-420-5723.

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