Local developer Tony Berenyi knows better than to build a marina right now.

The economic slowdown has led to stagnant boat sales, and some boaters can't even afford the gas to go out on the water.

"I think we all know the market we're in," he said. "Now's not the time to be thinking about increasing wet slips or anything that someone would consider a luxury."

But he also knows that the environmental permitting process can take several years, which is why he and business partner Janie Kruse are seeking the OK to build a public marina on the Cooper River in downtown Charleston near their Seabreeze office building.

The permit application, he said, will position the company to be ready for when boat slip demand returns in a few years.

The public marina, to be called Town Creek, would hold between 40 and 50 slips. It could accommodate vessels that range from 30 feet to 60 feet in length, Berenyi said.

The duo's company, Seabreeze Development, bought the former city jail property on Immigration Street in 1999 and transformed it into an office building. They also operate a 150-slip dry-stack marina that opened on the site six years ago.

Berenyi said the location is ideal for a recreational boating base, given its proximity to two major rivers and Charleston Harbor. And unlike the Ashley River, the Cooper River's current is strong enough at the site that the project wouldn't require dredging, he said.

At least two other local marina projects have been caught up in the latest economic downturn.

The Daniel Island Co. has put off building a public marina with 300 wet slips and 200 dry slips on the Wando River. That project could have opened as early as last year, but spokeswoman Julie Dombrowski said company officials are re-evaluating their plans while waiting for the market to show "stronger signs of improvement."

On the Stono River, St. Johns Yacht Harbor's expansion to 430 wet slips halted last fall after its owners fell into foreclosure. That property, which now has about 225 slips, failed to draw enough bids at a court-ordered auction Tuesday and was taken over by the lender, an entity controlled by New York investment fund Capital Trust.

Berenyi didn't give a firm time line for his $5 million Town Creek project, but he projected construction likely will start within a few years.

"The permit will be good for five years," he said. "If you think that in five years from now Charleston's not going to be going crazy, something's wrong with you."

Reach Katy Stech at kstech@postandcourier.com.