Eastport council mulls Boat School solutions

Posted Aug. 18, 2011, at 12:33 p.m.
Last modified Aug. 21, 2011, at 3:42 p.m.

EASTPORT, Maine — City councilors were devastated last month when David Marlow of Maine and Florida backed out of his proposal to convert The Boat School, a nationally known marine education facility, into a world-class luxury yacht manufacturing facility and school.

Now, the councilors have a different problem: Two, possibly three, new proposals for the Deep Cove property were floated Wednesday night at a two-hour council workshop.

City councilors will be holding another workshop next week on the various ideas put forward. Parties include Southwest Harbor boat builder Hinckley Co., which has expressed interest in visiting the facility; Friends of The Boat School, which proposed buying the property from the city for $1 and reinvigorating the school; and Perry Marine Construction, which is offering to buy 20 acres for $300,000. As part of that last offer, Perry Marine would run a manufacturing and repair facility in a new building and allow Friends of The Boat School to operate the school.

Although the property and buildings — which the city has owned since September 2007 — are assessed at $2 million, City Manager Jon Southern said the school and facility’s maintenance has cost Eastport $479,000 over the past four years. Those expenses are not offset by tax revenue.

Marlow swooped in with a proposal for a multimillion-dollar facility but cited an unwelcoming attitude by some in the community as his reason for backing out. Marlow had offered — and the city had accepted — $850,000 for the facility and school.

Five months after Marlow’s offer, Husson University announced that when the second year of its program is completed next spring, it no longer would be leasing and operating the facility.

Most of the 50 people attending the council workshop expressed a desire for The Boat School to remain viable. When asked by the council how the Friends of the Boat School planned to keep the school operational when in the past both Washington County Community College and Husson University could not, Friends member Dean Pike said, “We are not funding a pyramid scheme of administration. This is going to work because the [wallets in] the back pockets of local people are on the line.”

There are pros and cons to all three suggestions, the councilors pointed out, with the major stumbling block to privatization appearing to be the loss of public access to the facility, a loss that would deeply affect the local fishery.

Several of the people attending Wednesday night’s workshop questioned the viability of the Hinckley visit. The company has more than 400 employees at its eight locations, according to stories published earlier this year by the BDN. Hinckley has two boat-building sites in Southwest Harbor and Trenton, where it is estimated to employ 200 people, and has offices or service centers in Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey and Rhode Island. In January, the company announced a new investor and said it was experiencing strong numbers of future orders.

The letter from the company that was presented Wednesday only indicated a desire to visit the Deep Cove facility and was not an offer to purchase it.

But after nearly two hours of discussion on the various ideas, a simple solution emerged from the audience, one that was applauded by those in attendance.

A resident suggested Friends of The Boat School and Perry Marine merge their plans. Friends could buy the facility for $1 and then sell 20 acres to Perry Marine. The sale price could provide needed capital for the Friends of The Boat School to initially operate the school. The two groups agreed to get together immediately and discuss a possible solution, which many felt required retaining public access to the pier.

“I’m sure there is a way to do this,” Pike told the council. “I bet this could be worked out.”

Pike said a decision needs to be made quickly as this is the last school year Husson University will be operating The Boat School. Friends will need to recruit students immediately for the first year of the next two-year cycle of classes, which would begin in October. “We need to operate the first year of the program this year to make our five-year plan viable,” Pike said.

Earlier in the meeting, Paul M. Koziell, chief operating officer for Perry Marine Construction, explained the company’s intentions for the Deep Cove property. He said the company has a contract with Ocean Renewable Power Co. for hydro-turbines.

“We have a significant need for a manufacturing and repair facility with water access,” Koziell said. The company wanted to purchase all the buildings, the pier and 20.8 acres. The Boat School would then be leased for zero profit to Friends, under Perry Marine’s initial proposal.

“This would create tax revenue and remove all of the financial burden from the city,” Koziell said. He said the purchase would result in 12 new jobs and additional construction jobs.

The proposal by the Friends of The Boat School was to buy the property for $1, and “make The Boat School once again a prized member of the city of Eastport.”

The detailed business plan, submitted to the council Wednesday night, indicated that Friends would run the school as a two-year program with a combination of paid and volunteer staff. The marina and boat storage would remain open to the public.

Several anonymous private donors have stepped up to underwrite the school’s losses for the first three years, according to the Friends business plan. Friends also expects to show a profit by the third year of operation. By the fifth year, revenues are expected to outpace expenses by nearly $300,000. The plan is to recruit 10 students this fall for the first-year program and then increase the total number of students each year by 10, hitting a student body of 50 by the school year 2015-2016. Currently 10 students are enrolled in Husson’s second-year program at the school.

Robert Peacock, president of the city council, said Thursday morning that he was pleased to see everyone cooperating to find a solution that allows “everyone to come out a winner.” He said the previous night’s meeting was “truly democracy at its best.”

No date or time has been set for the next workshop.

CORRECTION:

An earlier version of this story gave the false impression that Marlow Yachts’ offer to buy the school came after Husson University’s decision in April 2011 that it was not renewing its lease at the school . Marlow Yachts’ offer was five months before Husson’s announcement.

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