June 12, 2011

Ocean Properties Ltd.: A company that likes to land by the sea

By J. Hemmerdinger jhemmerdinger@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

ROCKPORT - Last week, construction workers hustled to complete renovations to the new La Belle Vita Restaurant at The Samoset Resort in Rockport. 

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A new pool with amenities including a bar is among the renovations at Ocean Properties’ Samoset Resort in Rockport.

Photos by Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

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This is one of the new private dining rooms featured at the Samoset. Ocean Properties is adding a restaurant and an antipasto bar in the current round of renovations.

Additional Photos Below


HEADQUARTERS: Offices in Portsmouth, N.H., and Delray Beach, Fla.

HISTORY: Founded in the late 1960s by Tom Walsh of Bangor. Walsh bought five properties at attractive prices in Florida during the economic upheaval brought on by the Arab oil embargo of the early 1970s.

NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES: 1,700 in Maine during the summer, and 6,000 in the United States.

EXECUTIVES: Managed by Tom Walsh and his children, Mark, Mike, Patrick, Bill and Susan.

WORTH NOTING: Tom Walsh has owned horses and raced at the Bangor Raceway. Today, Ocean Properties is seeking approval to build Biddeford Downs, a racetrack with slot machines and a hotel, with partner Scarborough Downs.

FINANCIALS: Undisclosed

The work, to be completed this month, is part of a major renovation by the resort's owners, Ocean Properties Ltd., a hotel company with deep Maine ties.

In recent years, Ocean Properties, which has New Hampshire offices but owns numerous Maine hotels, has been acquiring new properties at discount prices, renovating older ones and planning new projects like Biddeford Downs, a proposed racetrack with slot machines and a hotel.

Executives say private ownership keeps them nimble and lets the company react quickly to business opportunities, even in a sluggish economy.

"When bad times hit, it is not a big shock for us. We don't go chasing things when the prices run up," said Mark Walsh, vice president and son of Ocean Properties' founder Tom Walsh. "Our view is that the best time to buy is when things are down, not at the height. A lot of people don't practice that."

Ocean Properties, which has some 6,000 employees in the United States, owns more than 100 hotels in the United States and Canada, including nine hotels in Maine and more than 35 in Florida, according to its website.

In Bar Harbor, the company owns the Days Inn, Harborside Hotel & Marina and the Bar Harbor Regency Holiday Inn. Other Maine properties include the Fairfield Inn in Bangor, the Holiday Inn in Bath and the Residence Inn in Auburn. South Portland properties include the Holiday Inn Express & Suites and the Portland Marriott at Sable Oaks.

Ocean Properties also operates a 50-person reservations call center at the Holiday Inn Express, and owns Bar Harbor Whale Watch, said senior vice president Tom Varley.

The company employs some 1,700 Mainers during the summer season, 300 of them at the Samoset, said hotel manager Cornelius Russell.

The Florida properties include high-end resorts like the Weston Key West Resort & Marina and Key West's Sunset Key Guest Cottages, which is on an island in the harbor. The Canadian locations are operated through Ocean Properties' subsidiary Atlific Hotels.

Tom Walsh, 82, a former linen and bedding salesman from Bangor, launched Ocean Properties more than 40 years ago. Walsh's early properties included hotels in Trenton and Brewer. In the early 1970s, when the economy suffered under the Arab oil embargo, Walsh bought five hotels in Florida at attractive prices, said Varley.

Ocean Properties is managed by Walsh and his five children: Mark, Mike, Patrick, Bill and Susan.

Joseph McInerney, president and CEO of Washington, D.C.-based American Hotel & Lodging Association, said the industry suffered heavily during the recent recession.

For five years leading up to 2007, he said, the hotel industry added a record number of rooms, growing at about 2 percent annually. McInerney said there are now 50,000 hotels in the United States and a record 4.4 million rooms.

In 2007 the industry felt the first pangs of trouble, when banks started restricting financing for construction projects.

In 2008, the situation worsened: the economy entered recession, Lehman Brothers collapsed and insurance company American International Group, operating with federal bailout funds, held a conference at a luxury resort in Arizona, leading to public criticism.

Business travel dried up, causing average hotel occupancy rates to fall from 62.8 percent in 2007 to 54.5 percent in 2009. Average room rates dropped from $104 nightly in 2007 to $98 in 2009, said McInerney.

The industry predicts room prices will rise to about $102 and occupancy rates will jump to nearly 60 percent in 2011.

Walsh said Ocean Properties didn't get caught in the race to scoop up hotel properties as real estate prices climbed in the years preceding the recession.

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Additional Photos

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The Samoset Golf Course is the centerpiece of the Samoset Resort in Rockport. New cottages are in the final stages of construction at the center of the course. Ocean Properties owns nine hotels in Maine.

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This screened-in sitting room in one of the new cottages overlooks the golf course on the ocean at the Samoset Resort in Rockport.


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