Rocky sailing for marinas Boat slips in Canton, Fells Point are seized as owners fall on hard times

November 09, 1991|By Blair S. Walker

The foundering economy has tarnished the marinas of Baltimore's "gold coast."

Along the toney sections of Boston Street in Canton, deepwater boat slips adjoining town houses and condominiums are worth tens of thousands of dollars. But with some owners experiencing hard times, creditors are seizing the slips with a vengeance.

On Nov. 21, Atlantic Auctions Inc. is scheduled to sell 99 boat slips at Boston Street marinas. The champagne brunches that lured buyers in droves as recently as 1988 are just a memory.

"For whatever reason, the collateral is being converted," said Richard M. Tonroy, a vice president with Atlantic Auctions. "If people can't afford boats, they have no need for slips."

Three years ago, amid predictions that marinas in Canton and Fells Point would collectively have 4,500 boat slips by the year 2000,mooring space went for $1,000 a foot and more, Mr. Tonroy said. That meant the owner of a 35-foot yacht paid $35,000 or more to purchase a watery parking space.

That price has been cut in half now, said Mr. Tonroy, who added that in addition to slips, entire marinas are being auctioned.

"The whole [boating] industry is sagging," said Joel I. Sher, a boat owner and a bankruptcy attorney with Shapiro and Olander in Baltimore. "From the manufacturers and distributors of boats to the marinas, sales are down.

"What happened in the mid- to late 80s is that a lot of marinas changed hands and the buyers paid premium prices," said Mr. Sher, who has represented several marina owners in bankruptcy proceedings. "It's a tough business to run, and a lot of them are having a tough time. What's happened to the economy overall is that people have less money for recreational pursuits."

In Annapolis, the privilege of renting a boat slip in a prestigious downtown marina can cost $100 per foot on an annual basis.

Some boat owners have chosen to remove their vessels from boat slips and put them in dry storage, which is cheaper, Douglas J.Smith, who sells boats, said.

"It seems like there are a lot of slips available right now, for whatever reason," said Mr. Smith, a vice president with Bay Yacht Agency inAnnapolis.

"About three years ago, it was hard to find any kind of slips. I think a lot of it has to do with boat sales being down right now, one reason being the 10 percent luxury tax" levied by the federal government onboats exceeding $100,000, he said.

Marinas' business will pick up when the economy has "stabilized and we're not going to go down even more in terms of job security," said Robert. J. Palmer, who owns the Trade Winds Marina in Middle River.

At his facility, a fair number of boaters either didn't use their vessels this year or sold them, said Mr. Palmer, who is president of the Marine Trades Association of Baltimore County. His 78-slip facility is about 80 percent full, Mr. Palmer said.

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