Sun Sentinel: Lauderdale Marine Center, tenants expand operations March 18, 2015

South Florida’s largest boat repair center is getting larger.

Lauderdale Marine Center, the sprawling boatyard visible from Interstate 95 and known for its tall arches covering long docks, just bought six home lots for about $1 million to expand parking and offices.

That follows its April 2014 purchase of the adjacent 8-acre River Bend Marina for $5.2 million — moves that boost its space to 60 acres and investment beyond $65 million, said co-owner Selvin Passen.

Lauderdale Marine Center, the sprawling boatyard visible from Interstate 95, just bought six lots for about $1 million to expand parking and offices.

Amassing 60 acres to start a boatyard in the tri-county area nowadays would be tough, if not impossible, because of price, said Phil Purcell, who runs the Marine Industries Association of South Florida. Waterfront land has been rising in value, and much of it already has been built out.

“It could be prohibitively expensive because of the acquisition cost of land,” Purcell said.

Passen and business partner Morio Mito bought the initial 32 acres for the center out of receivership in 1997 and expanded on the New River in stages, buying the adjacent 18-acre Denison family property in 2004.

Yet more than acreage distinguishes the marine center. It operates differently, too.

While most boatyards centralize operations and employ their own people for repairs, Lauderdale Marine leases space to tenants who run their own businesses — more like a shopping mall or a seaport does.

Today, the marine center employs about 40 people directly, while its tenants employ roughly 600 to 1,200 people at the site, depending on the season, said Mark Pratt, the center’s general manager.

The Lauderdale Marine Center, South Florida’s largest boat repair center, is expanding. (Mike Stocker / Sun Sentinel)

The center has about 50 tenants who offer such varied services as painting, engine repair and woodworking, Pratt said. Plus, boat owners can bring in their own contractors for jobs at the yard.

“The standard model for a boatyard is to buy a marine property and operate a business out of it,” Passen said. “Our model is providing facilities for marine contractors to work.”

Among those growing with Lauderdale Marine is Advanced Mechanical Enterprises, a family business that provides diagnostics and repairs for engines. The company is investing more than $80,0000 to expand its machine shop at the marine center, said Christine Battles, who oversees operations.

Such technical expertise is widely available around Fort Lauderdale, helping build the area’s reputation as “the yachting capital of the world” and a hub for yacht repair, Passen said.

“What Fort Lauderdale has that’s very unusual is the massive variety of trades here,” Purcell sadi. Investors elsewhere cannot easily find that, also helping cut competition for a marine center so large.

Co-owner Selvin Passen at the Lauderdale Marine Center. (Mike Stocker / Sun Sentinel)

Yet despite its size, Lauderdale Marine has a low profile outside the boating industry. That’s partly because owners developed the business with virtually no advertising, relying instead on referrals.

“We’ve built this business on relationships,” the soft-spoken Passen said.

A boater since his childhood in the Baltimore area, Passen developed Lauderdale Marine Center after a career as a pathologist. He had co-founded and led a large clinical lab, Maryland Medical Lab, to top $100 million in annual revenue. That lab was sold to what is now Quest Diagnostics.

Passen also is an owner in a Baltimore marina, which does not focus on boat repair., 305-810-5009, @dhemlock on Twitter

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Marine Industries Association of South Florida. 221 SW 3rd Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33312. Phone: 954.524.2733