EASTPORT, Maine — “You know the kind of day in Maine when the sky is so clear and such a deep blue that you just can’t believe it? That’s what Florida is like today — 68 degrees,” David Marlow said from Palmetto, a small city on the western coast of the peninsula.
And even though another major snowstorm was blasting Washington County on Friday, Marlow said he left his heart in snowbound Eastport and that he can’t wait to get back and begin development on a multimillion-dollar yacht building and repair facility.
Eastport is on the verge of a major economic upturn, Marlow said, and he wants to be part — if not the catalyst — of that success.
“Over the years, I fell in love with the area,” Marlow, 68, said. “I watched the city. I watched The Boat School. I watched the airport. And I believe that someone has to build on this. It seems that all Eastport needs is a little spark, someone to light a match. It is time to create jobs.”
Who better to start a firestorm of redevelopment than Marlow — a world-renowned luxury yacht manufacturer with a global reputation for doing things well? His company, Marlow Yachts, produces sleek, deluxe yachts that range from $1 million to $3.6 million each. They are so prized that they are often referred to as heirlooms.
Marlow’s attention to detail in boat building spills over into his environment — his manufacturing plants and boatyards look like finely manicured parks. Marlow owns facilities in Florida and Asia, as well as a seasonal residence in Brooksville, Maine.
Marlow has proposed to buy the city of Eastport’s Boat School for $850,000. He says his plan would provide at least 100 new jobs, would put development dollars in the town coffers, beautify and improve the downtown area, create a new city wharf for local fishermen, expand The Boat School’s purpose and curriculum, and build a maritime and boat building museum. The heart of his project is a proposed composite construction facility and laboratory and a commercial vessel and yacht repair center that would be located on The Boat School campus.
Town leaders and residents are applauding the plan; Marlow is currently in discussion with Husson University, which operates the city-owned Boat School; and special emergency legislation has been proposed by state Sen. Kevin Raye, R-Perry, that would allow Eastport to sell the school.
“Eastport has a solid wheel of commerce,” Marlow said. “It just needs a shoulder. We can really build on what is there.”
Marlow retired once — he sold off a number of boatyards in Florida in the late 1980s — and came to Maine to visit. “I had rambled the world since I was 14, but I had never been to Maine,” he said. “Can you imagine that?”
He rented a sailboat, planned a two-week vacation with his wife and set off along the Down East coast.
But the fog was so thick that for the first 11 days, he saw nothing. “I thought, ‘Maybe this is why I haven’t come to Maine,’” he said.
On the 12th day, the sun rose, and Marlow said he found himself in Eggemoggin Reach — “one of the most spectacularly beautiful places on Earth,” he said. He rented a car and began exploring.
“I found Eastport,” he said. “I fell in love.” For the next 30 years, Marlow kept tabs on Eastport. He feels that now the time is right to move a manufacturing facility there.
Since his proposal to the City Council, hundreds of people who were born or raised in Eastport have contacted him about their hometown. “I have a shoebox full of letters and e-mails,” Marlow said. “These people, who left for economic reasons, want to come home. Give me a job, the letters say.”
Marlow is not seeking any tax incentives for his projects and has suggested forming a steering committee that could look into establishing ferry service between Eastport, Lubec, and Campobello and Deer Island, New Brunswick, to bolster the local economy.
“Though [this project’s] emphasis is on Eastport, there can be little argument to be made that its overall impact will be felt across Maine and, in some small measure, America,” Marlow said.
Marlow is ready to begin development as soon as two obstacles are cleared.
First, legislation is required to allow Eastport to sell The Boat School. Marlow and city leaders expect this to go through quickly.
The Boat School is the country’s oldest boat building school. In 1977, the Maine Department of Education received a $1 million grant to establish the Marine Trades Center at the Deep Cove location, using buildings in place from the early 1970s. The DOE purchased the property from Sealife Industries for $330,000, and the campus became the new home of the Washington County Vocational Technical Institute, which had been based in Lubec.
The Boat School thrived until the mid-1990s and then began to see enrollment decline. The Legislature gave ownership of the property to the city of Eastport in 2007. First operated by Washington County Community College, it now is managed by Husson University.
Secondly, Marlow must determine whether Husson will continue to operate The Boat School. Now a city-owned property managed by Husson, The Boat School would be increased to a four-year school under Marlow’s plan.
Marlow said he has been talking with Husson officials and “we have some logistics to resolve. We haven’t made real progress, although that doesn’t mean we have any differences. I think Husson is weighing whether or not they will be able to reach a critical mass to afford leasing the space.”
Marlow said Eastport simply cannot afford to continue providing Husson the facility. “I am looking at a way that somehow, some part of The Boat School tuition could offset operating costs. I have met with their accountant, and as a purely business decision, Husson cannot afford to lease the space with its current enrollment.”
“We are looking forward to further conversation with the city of Eastport and Mr. Marlow,” Julie Green, Husson’s spokesperson said Friday. “Of course, our first priority is our current students and honoring our commitment to them. We intend to do everything we can to work with all the parties involved to find the best outcomes.”
Marlow said that if Husson declines to lease and manage the school, he will begin to look at alternatives. He said he remains committed to keeping the school open and running.
He said he also is committed to effectively blending Maine’s beauty and economic development. He has proposed expanding the coastal walkway and constructing permanent bathroom facilities downtown, as well as adding new landscaping.
“Maine’s beauty, Eastport’s beauty and economic development are compatible,” he said. “Why not a boat school? Why not a boat facility? And why not Eastport? We can provide great jobs and not take anything away from the special place that is Eastport.”