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Business ‘steady as she goes’ under new owners at LMC

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Management and tenants at Lauderdale Marine Center in Ft. Lauderdale report a smooth transition after the July 1 purchase by The Carlyle Group, a global asset manager based in Washington, D.C.

“If we could have kept this news under wraps, no one would have known there was a change since June 30,” Mark Pratt, general manager of LMC, said. “A few staff are gone from the financial side. The chief financial officer and assistant, they went with the seller.”

The company has hired a controller and an operations manager from within, but no other staff changes have been made, he said.  According to Carlyle Group’s public relations agency for the purchase of LMC, there will not be a Carlyle representative on site.

“It’s not like Carlyle has a group of black suits that descended on us,” he said. “All the rest is exactly as it was. The employees are the same, down to their accrued vacation [days].”

According to several people at LMC, The Carlyle Group has not made much of a public show on site. LMC is a do-it-yourself yard where customers can work with businesses that lease offices and bays on the property as tenants. As of press time, only a few of the nearly 60 tenants have seen a Carlyle representative.

“I met a rep who will be responsible for remote oversight, but other than that we’ve seen absolutely no changes,” said tenant Chris Brown, owner of High Seas Yacht Service and Hydraulic. “There is no big news to report; it’s steady as she goes.”

Christine Battles, office administrator of Advanced Mechanical Enterprises (AME), briefly met the new leasing manager.

Tenants did receive estoppel letters during Carlyle’s due diligence before the purchase, but many tenants on the 60-acre property have gotten no other official notice from the new owners.

Roger Moore also hasn’t heard from The Carlyle Group. Moore is CEO of Nautical Ventures Group, which owned River Bend Marine Center adjacent to LMC until the shipyard acquired it in 2014. Nautical Ventures was to remain onsite as operators, but Moore said his future is uncertain.

“The Carlyle acquisition has been a very disappointing turn of events for River Bend Marine Center,” Moore said. “We were slated to be the operators of the refurbished marina beginning in August/September of this year and this sudden turn of events has adversely affected staff, work in process and has caused tremendous hardship.

“We are still in the process of moving out,” he said. “It appears we have no future at that location and the River Bend Service team and equipment is in the process of moving to the Fort Lauderdale Marina and Boatyard located at the old Jackson Marine/National Liquidators site.”

River Bend Service will continue operations at the new location conducting refits, maintenance, painting, fiberglass and mechanical work. The company’s administrative offices have been relocated to Nautical Ventures Group’s main offices in Dania Beach, Fla.

Nearby neighbors are also watching for what happens with the new owners of LMC. Harry Crawford has double the interest. As owner of H & R Marine Engineering, Crawford said he was the first tenant on LMC’s east yard “even before they it opened about seven years ago” and he has lived in the surrounding neighborhood for 16 years.

“I can walk out of my house and throw a rock at my shop,” Crawford said. “I can actually get to work faster by boat. And all my employees live within a  couple blocks. As a matter of fact, a lot of the workers live by here.

“I can tell you the residents are worried and all my neighbors keep asking me about it,” Crawford said. “We don’t want condos.”

In talking with other tenants, however, he has heard that operations at the shipyard will stay the same and he hopes so.

“Everything should be just fine,” he said. “I don’t plan on going anywhere.”

Still, rumors about the waterfront property continue. But Pratt said he believes the marina will stay put.

Carlyle is investing in upgrades. Plans include building a new main office and repurposing the catch-all area that’s a bit cluttered for proper boat storage, Pratt said.

“I get rumors every day, and while Carlyle owns condos, it is not in their plans to build condos here,” Pratt said. “As to River Bend, that may be the part that fosters the rumors about the condos. The plans are not final, but we expect it to be marine-repair related.

“Carlyle likes our niche market,” Pratt said. “It will be business as usual.”

According to a press release from The Carlyle Group, that is true.

“In partnership with the outstanding management team and staff at LMC, we will build upon LMC’s success through growth and continued innovation and superb customer service,” said Thad Paul, managing director at The Carlyle Group. “Favorable demand trends in the megayacht industry and the high barriers to entry for new supply in Southeast Florida attracted us to the investment.”

Pratt thinks the practical impact of LMC in the yacht market will continue to be the focus.

“There are not enough facilities in town to house this,” he said, referring to the acres of yachts at the yard. “All of our competition couldn’t take these boats. If someone wants to sign a five-year contract with us now, we will sign it today.”

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Dorie Cox is editor of The Triton.

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