May 23, 2018
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Sale of Portland boatyard seen as important step toward more waterfront development

DeLuca-Hoffman Associates | BDN
DeLuca-Hoffman Associates | BDN
An image distributed to Portland's Planning Board by DeLuca-Hoffman Associates Inc. shows a new boat maintenance and repair yard being proposed for the long underused waterfront side of West Commercial Street, adjacent to the Casco Bay Bridge.
By Seth Koenig, BDN Staff

PORTLAND, Maine — Two Portland waterfront mainstays will merge under common ownership as Portland Yacht Services on Tuesday announced plans to purchase the Gowen Marine boatyard. Owners of both companies described the deal as one that will help revive a once-thriving commercial port that has fallen on hard times.

The city waterfront also has been buoyed in recent months by the arrival of Icelandic cargo company Eimskip, which provides a potentially lucrative direct container shipping connection between Portland and Europe for the first time since 1980.

Portland Yacht Services owner Phineas Sprague is planning to expand and move his company from its longtime home in The Portland Co. complex on eastern Fore Street to a new state-of-the-art waterfront campus on West Commercial Street, on the other side of the Casco Bay Bridge from the International Marine Terminal.

Sprague appeared before the Portland Planning Board on Tuesday night to seek more time for the early phases of the project’s development, which initially included 42,000 square feet of building space at the site for boat repair and storage.

He successfully garnered the board’s blessing Tuesday to instead make just minimal improvements to the grounds — and add no permanent buildings — during the initial phase of development to accommodate the launching and storage of vessels on the property.

The industrial buildings previously proposed would be constructed in the next phase of the project, according to documents submitted to the board, and the delay is only being sought to allow Sprague more time to discuss with operators of the International Marine Terminal the parameters of a potential westward expansion of that neighboring facility.

In the short term, the acquisition of Gowen Marine at 400 Commercial St. will provide Portland Yacht Services the flexibility to accommodate its ongoing work load while making a transition between properties, Sprague said in his company’s Tuesday announcement.

“This is something we have been considering for a very long time,” Sprague said in the statement. “It will give us the flexibility to move forward with our long-term plan and allow us to immediately begin servicing larger vessels that could not be serviced at our former location.”

The 22-acre waterfront property where Sprague hopes to build what’s being called New Yard has been largely undeveloped in recent years. To help facilitate the move, he sold the historic 10-acre Portland Co. property late last month to a group of buyers including well-known developer Jim Brady.

The chain of events has been described as potentially transformative for a Maine city already experiencing a development boom of sorts. The sale of The Portland Co. complex opens up a large, high-profile waterfront property for redevelopment for the first time in years, and the opportunity isn’t coming at the immediate expense of the employment rate, as longtime primary occupant Portland Yacht Services will not only remain in business, but expand in its new location.

Christopher O’Neil, a Portland Community Chamber consultant, recently told the Bangor Daily News that Sprague’s sale of The Portland Co. complex and his new shipyard could be the catalyst for as much as $1 billion worth of downtown and waterfront development.

Sprague said in a statement Tuesday that customers of neither Portland Yacht Services nor the 58-year-old Gowen Marine should see any changes in service as a result of the recently announced sale.

Joseph Schmader — who has owned Gowen Marine since 1968 and will continue to own and operate Gowen Power Systems, Inc. — said in a statement Tuesday he supports Sprague’s vision for the Portland waterfront and views the sale of his company as a step toward retirement.

Sprague and Schmader are longtime friends who met more than 40 years ago, when Sprague refitted Schmader’s schooner for a circumnavigation voyage, according to the sale announcement.

“I’ve been at this a long time,” Schmader said in a statement. “I feel very connected to this city, but I’m also ready to move on and enjoy retirement. I have a few items to cross off my bucket list. … I know what Phin and his team want to do, and I know they are capable of getting it done. I am pleased to be a part of this process.”

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