Scaled-down boating center proposed for Port Liberty


More than a year after a development group in Canton abandoned plans to build a $100 million boat sales center and repair yard on Boston Street, developers of the Port Liberty Industrial Center in South Baltimore are planning to create a scaled-down version of the same project there.

Struever Bros., Eccles and Rouse, Inc., the developer of the 30-acre Port Liberty complex in Fairfield, is working with Fred Potts of Engineered Marine Systems of Baltimore to create the Port Liberty Boat and Yacht yard on 5 acres in the waterfront business complex.

Mark Shapiro, director of development for Struever Bros., said the group will appear before Baltimore's Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals on Oct. 23 to request a conditional-use permit for the project and hopes to be operating before year's end.

The goal, he said, is to handle much of the pleasure boat storage, repair and sales business once planned for the old J. S. Young Licorice Co. property off the 2700 block of Boston Street in Canton.

"What we're hearing is that there is a huge demand for a major regional pleasure boat repair yard, especially for the mega-yachts -- 100 feet long or more -- that have no place else between Long Island, N.Y., and Florida to be serviced," Mr. Shapiro said.

"We think we have the potential to turn this area into a national boat yard and attract large boats from all over the eastern United States and maybe beyond."

The owners of the nine-acre Canton parcel, a group headed by Dwayne Stephenson and Gale Brimhall, unveiled plans in 1987 to construct the Baltimore International Yachting Centre, a $100 million complex billed as a "one-stop shopping center" for powerboats, sailboats and related goods and services.

The developers have since joined forces with Baltimore County developer Norman Rockwell and now plan to build a mostly residential complex called Lighthouse Point, with a limited amount of space for boat storage, repairs and sales.

The owners of the Yachting Centre have notified people storing their boats on the Boston Street property that they will not be able to do so this year because construction is about to begin on the first phase of the Lighthouse Point project.

Mr. Shapiro said Mr. Stephenson and Mr. Brimhall originally expressed interest in leasing land at Port Liberty so they could move their boat-storage operation from Canton, but they never reached a lease agreement with Struever Bros.

"They really put the idea into our heads," Mr. Shapiro said. "When they decided not to do it, we decided to go ahead ourselves."

Situated off the 1800 block of Frankfurst Avenue, the Port Liberty property is a former shipyard where the famous Liberty ships were builtin World War II.

Struever Bros. acquired 30 of the 40 acres in the mid-1980s, including half a dozen large factory buildings, and began preparing the property for a variety of industrial users.

If the zoning board approves, Mr. Shapiro said, 5 acres at Port Liberty will be available starting this fall for people who need to store boats up to 60 feet long.

He said up to 60 boats can be stored per acre and that the group also will provide services such as bottom-cleaning and engine repairs. Starting next year, he said, the group hopes to move ahead with additional phases, including a "boatel" for 400 boats.

Mr. Shapiro said the project will not start out as large as the Canton development was to be but will be able to grow and take over more land as more businesses come to the area.

In the beginning, "we're going to more on the service side -- boating rigging, engine repairs, propeller repair, sail-making," he said.

Mr. Shapiro said he is optimistic that the project will be well received because of its location and facilities, including a 500-foot-long pier and two 75-ton cranes for large yachts. Also, with 1,400 feet of shoreline, Port Liberty has more water frontage than any other development on Baltimore's harbor, he said.

"We have a lot of flexibility," he said. "The reason the site is so good for a boatyard is that's what it was -- a manufacturing yard for the Liberty ships."

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