FOND DU LAC, Wis. – Mercury Marine will open a new 8.4-acre, integrated research-and-development site on Watson Bayou near Panama City, Fla., the company said in a statement Friday.
The new facility, named X-Site, will feature multiple in-water slips, as well as an office, laboratory and boat-rigging building. Operations from the company’s former Florida testing site, called Lake X, including offshore race support, will also be based there, Mercury said.
"Mercury has a rich history from its decades at Lake X, but we have simply outgrown it," said Fred Kiekhaefer, president of Mercury Racing and son of Mercury founder Carl Kiekhaefer. "As a kid, when I was driving endurance there, it seemed like hours to get around the lake. At today's boat speeds, it's seconds. Since we could not stretch the lake, we needed a new X-Site."
X-Site is scheduled to open by April 14, though the exact date will depend on the progress of construction.
Mercury selected Watson Bayou over 52 other potential sites based on criteria that included realistic boating conditions, available marine technical personnel and a degree of seclusion, the company said.
Watson Bayou also offers suitable calm and rough conditions in both saltwater and freshwater, which will allow the same facility and staff members to test everything from high-end offshore race boats to small outboard-powered tenders. Additionally, a combined testing facility adheres to the company's lean-thinking philosophy and migration toward increased integration, Mercury said.
Lake X Operations Manager Bill Harris will oversee Mercury Racing's customer support and offshore race activities at X-Site. Bill Nesslar, manager of Mercury's former saltwater test facility in Placida, Fla., will oversee all Mercury production research-and-development testing at the new Panama City site. John Sherlock will oversee Mercury Racing's research-and-development testing, according to the company.