Safe Harbor Marinas plans aggressive expansion in 2016

Safe Harbor Marinas announced its formal debut as the largest owner and operator of marinas in the U.S. at the International Marina and Boatyard Conference in Ft. Lauderdale. The company, which was formed in 2015 and backed by the American Infrastructure MLP Funds (AIM), recently completed acquisitions from four separate marina owners and operators.

“With the launch of the newly formed Safe Harbor Marinas, we have created the nation’s largest owner and operator of marinas,” said Ryan Barnes, managing director for AIM. “We are focused on the numerous opportunities in this sector and have a strategy to create a lasting partnership in the marina industry.”

Safe Harbor currently owns and manages 31 marinas across 12 states, totaling over 20,000 wet and dry slips, and has an aggressive objective of adding another 20 to 30 marinas in the coming year. The company’s plan is to continue growing its presence in market areas where it is already established, with selective expansion plans to new markets in regions where the company can establish a large presence.

“We want to increase our presence by picking up additional assets,” said Baxter Underwood, president of Safe Harbor Marinas. “We don’t want to establish a small [presence] in an area where we’re not already currently invested.”

The company is looking to selectively acquire coastal and inland marinas, either through the acquisition of whole portfolios or select individual properties. The company expects to deploy over $500 million of capital in acquisitions through its equity and debt commitments. In certain situations, the company will consider bringing in marina owners as equity partners.

“We have created a brand and strategy that will benefit marina owners, operators and the boating community in both the short term and the long term,” said Marshall Funk, CEO of Safe Harbor Marinas. “As a result of our scale, all of our properties will benefit from additional revenue and cost saving opportunities.”

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Safe Harbor is looking to stay away from acquiring businesses that are highly service-intensive and instead wants to be in the business of passive income: marinas that largely derive their incomes from the leasing of slips, storage and dry stacks.

“There may be some ancillary businesses that are components of it, but if it gets to be too much, at some point we start to say that’s probably not our type of asset,” said Underwood.

The acquisition model of Safe Harbor Marinas will look familiar to anyone on the boat retail side following the growth of OneWater Marine Holdings (see related story in Industry News). Safe Harbor plans to let its acquired marinas keep its existing branding, as there is value of those reputations in the communities. Underwood described Safe Harbor as an aggregator of real estate assets, not necessarily the businesses themselves.

“We want them to benefit from our growing strength as an organization – hopefully that means lower costs on things like insurance and fuel – but we want them to keep their local presence,” said Underwood. “We don’t know that boaters in Texas would recognize the name Safe Harbor any more than boaters in Florida, but they may have [an] association with a local marina, and we want to keep those associations intact and strengthen them.”

For marina owners that are in the process of setting up the business for sale, Underwood suggests making it as easy as possible for an investor such as Safe Harbor to come in and review the company’s financials. (You can read more about the importance of clean financials and other aspects of selling a business in the March issue of Boating Industry.)

“Have an ability to clearly present your financial position. Audits of financials are wonderful, or financials that are easy to understand and get your arms around quickly,” said Underwood. “That makes the conversation so much easier.”

 

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