EASTPORT, Maine — One of the world’s premier yacht makers, who has previously focused his manufacturing efforts in Taiwan, China and Tampa Bay, Fla., has made an offer that could turn around the financially struggling city of Eastport.
David Marlow of Marlow Yachts approached the City Council during a workshop this week and floated a proposal to buy The Boat School, which is owned by the city and leased to Husson University.
His plans include expanding The Boat School program from a two-year to a four-year marine trades program while keeping Husson University involved. He also plans to revamp the campus, expand the existing boatyard and build an on-site yacht manufacturing facility that could create 100 new jobs.
“This could be a godsend for Eastport,” City Manager Jon Southern said Thursday. “This business is compatible with every city goal for our working waterfront. It is ecologically friendly. It would create high-quality jobs. It protects The Boat School and retains the partnership we have with Husson.”
Chris Gardner, executive director of the Eastport Port Authority, said he had a chance Tuesday to discuss the port’s role in shipping million-dollar yachts to Marlow’s customers worldwide.
“This project is both intriguing and promising,” Gardner said, “and could affect the entire county.”
The major investment and infusion of cash into Eastport is just what the city needs, Southern said. Eastport loses money on The Boat School every year — to the tune of about $150,000 annually.
Southern said the city’s financial security is so shaky that by the end of the year, city leaders could have to make a decision about whether to close the local high school or close The Boat School.
“Every town is struggling, but Eastport is different, because we have the tools and we can pick them up and fix the problem,” he said.
Southern said he and Marlow have been in informal discussions about the project for three to four months.
“This is a world-class business,” Southern said.
Robert Turcotte, director of The Boat School, did not return the Bangor Daily News’ calls Thursday.
All five city councilors have told Southern they back Marlow’s proposal, and the project is quickly gaining support among county leaders.
“This is an extraordinary opportunity,” state Sen. Kevin Raye, R-Perry, said Thursday. “It could be an enormous shot in the arm to the Down East economy.”
Raye said Marlow’s collaboration with The Boat School also presents great opportunity.
“Potential students would be clamoring to go there,” he said. Raye said he would assist the project on both the state and local level.
“Imagine how the presence of Marlow Yachts could change the face of Eastport in a very positive way,” Eastport City Councilor John Miller said this week. “Imagine the skill sets that students from The Boat School would have after their course of study. David’s proposal to build a state-of-the-art, world-class yacht-building facility would bring a tremendous boost to our local economy and a way of life that most local residents cannot even imagine.”
Washington County Manager Betsy Fitzgerald, who sat in on Monday’s meeting between Marlow and the Eastport Council, said, “Any opportunity to utilize our existing assets is a wonderful thing.” She said the county would continue to participate in conversations between Marlow and Eastport officials.
Marlow could not be reached this week about his project as he was at sea, en route to Florida from Maine.
Fitzgerald said Marlow told the council that The Boat School is underutilized and that the city should not own property unless it was prepared to manage it.
“I don’t dream small,” Marlow reportedly told the city and county officials. Marlow’s yachts range in price from $1.5 million to $3.6 million apiece, depending on the model, and the company has obtained many international awards for design and style, according to various industry publications.
Fitzgerald said Marlow told councilors that The Boat School is a wonderful facility today, but that it is not prepared “to go into tomorrow.”
Marlow is a Florida native with a seasonal residence in Brooksville, Maine.
He told local officials he employs 750 people at his sales and marine service facility in Tampa Bay, Fla.
Marlow also maintains a shipyard in Taiwan that has another 1,000 employees, and he has been nationally recognized for the “greenness” of his facilities, according to the company’s website, www.marlowyachts
.com. At the Taiwan facility, Marlow maintains 14 apartments — complete with staff — for customers who are “visiting” their yachts under construction.
Fitzgerald said Marlow expected that similar clientele would want to come to Eastport and that a future expansion at the Eastport Airport could help make that possible.
Marlow also told the council that Eastport is ripe for opportunity and that its local natural resources, such as timber and granite, could be used in his manufacturing process, according to Fitzgerald.
Marlow said that once a deal for The Boat School has been made final, he would buy adjoining properties, expand the campus, bring in specialized equipment such as a 150-ton hydraulic lift, raise the height of existing buildings and build additional buildings, according to the county manager.
She said Marlow told city officials that there is technology in Asia unheard of in Maine and that he plans to bring it to Eastport.
Marlow also reportedly told the council that he had the opportunity to locate his facility in other states but that it was The Boat School and its potential that brought him to Eastport.
Fitzgerald said the existing two-year curriculum does not provide enough for graduates and that Marlow planned to expand it to a four-year program while providing hands-on, real-life experiences with the shipyard and mega-yacht manufacturing facility.
According to Southern, conversations will continue between the city and Marlow. The city is checking into its ownership contract and whether it will need legislative approval to sell the school, while Marlow soon will be submitting a written proposal — which will include a suggested purchase price — to the city.
It’s been good news on top of good news recently for the city of Eastport. Projects currently under way are an $8 million port expansion, a $1.4 million manufacturing facility and a multimillion-dollar tidal power project that is being watched globally. These projects are funded through federal stimulus funds, grants and private investments.
“I think it took awhile for all the ducks to be in a row,” Fitzgerald said. “They are lined up now.”