August 28, 2013

Sprague buying Gowen Marine

The purchase will allow the owner of Portland Yacht Services to begin servicing larger vessels.

By Randy Billings rbillings@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — The owner of Portland Yacht Services announced Tuesday that he is buying Gowen Marine, a fixture on Portland's working waterfront for more than 50 years.

Phineas Sprague Jr. said the purchase of Gowen Marine's business and equipment should be completed by the end of September. Customers at both Gowen Marine, located at at 400 Commercial St., and Portland Yacht Services should not expect any major changes as a result of the transaction, he said.

"This is something we have been considering for a very long time," Sprague said in a written statement. "It will give us the flexibility to move forward with our long-term plan and allow us to immediately begin servicing larger vessels that could not be serviced at our former location."

Sprague recently sold his sprawling 10-acre Portland Company Marine Complex on the Eastern Waterfront to CPB2, a Yarmouth-based development company.

While the marina will remain at the Portland Company complex, Sprague plans to move his vessel-servicing operation to a vacant piece of land on Commercial Street just west of the Casco Bay Bridge.

Sprague already has planning approvals and permits to construct a 19,200-square-foot storage and repair facility made of tension fabric and a 22,417-square-foot operation center at the West Commercial Street site. However, he is delaying that project to allow the state, the city and Icelandic shipping company Eimskip to work on a possible expansion of the International Marine Terminal.

Eimskip decided to come to the Portland waterfront on assurances from state officials that Pan Am Railways tracks will be extended about 1,500 feet to reach the International Marine Terminal, where Eimskip vessels dock, the company's general manager has said. Eimskip is now operating the first direct container service between Maine and Europe in 33 years.

If the train tracks reach the terminal, containers can be moved from ships to trains at the same terminal for the first time in the port's history.

Eimskip now trucks its containers along Commercial Street to the Merrill Marine Terminal, where they are loaded on trains with a crane and then shipped across the country.

The expansion of the International Marine Terminal is being eyed for the easternmost portion of the 23 acres of land Sprague recently bought. It could include a cold storage facility and an extension of the railroad to the terminal.

State officials have said there is money for the rail expansion in the $100 million transportation bond that will likely go to voters in November, but Maine Department of Transportation spokesman Ted Talbot said Sprague will not have to wait that long until a final plan is drafted. "This is a top priority," Talbot said. "We're addressing these issues as quickly as we can and with the most urgency we possibly can. We understand this was a really important piece of Eimskip coming."

Once the terminal expansion is figured out, Sprague said he will have to change the layout of his boatyard. 

Sprague said the purchase of Gowen Marine will allow him to continue operating his business. As winter approaches, boat owners will be looking to haul their vessels out of the water so they can be serviced and stored, he said.

Sprague said the boats will be serviced at Gowen Marine for the time being, and storage for the vessels will be on West Commercial Street. 

Gowen Marine was founded in 1955 by Harold Gowen and purchased in 1968 by Joseph Schmader, who grew the business into a two-acre complex that supports both commercial and recreational marine vessels.

Schmader, 67, will continue to own and operate Gowen Power Systems Inc., a separate company also located at 400 Commercial St., according to the press release.

Schmader said in the statement that he is excited about the vision that has been outlined by Sprague, the city and the state of Maine to grow and revitalize the city's port. "I know what Phin and his team want to do, and I know they are capable of getting it done," Schmader said. "I am pleased to be a part of this process."

 

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at rbillings@pressherald.com

 

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