June 20, 2011

Still in the dark about
Ram Island Ledge Light

By Trevor Maxwell tmaxwell@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

What inspires a brain surgeon, who lives in a house in the woods and reportedly doesn't even own a boat, to plunk down $190,000 at auction for a lighthouse in Portland Harbor?

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Ram Island Ledge Light is part of the scenic vista that visitors enjoy when they visit Fort Williams Park and Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

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Ram Island Ledge Light, built in 1903-1905, is seen about a mile offshore from its more famous cousin, Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth, which is in the foreground.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

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And what is his plan for preserving the historic Ram Island Ledge Light?

Dr. Jeffrey Florman has the answers, but nine months after he placed the winning bid, he's keeping a low public profile.

As in, off-the-radar low.

Florman did not respond to requests for an interview last week and has turned down several other requests since the auction closed Sept. 14. At the time, he tried to remain anonymous even after the U.S. General Services Administration released his name to the media.

The bidders who lost to Florman, meanwhile, say they're interested to see what decisions the Windham resident will make for the unique property.

"I guess being a doctor, he doesn't really want the public to know much about his private life. I think that's part of it," said Portland-based real estate developer Art Girard, who stopped bidding on the lighthouse after losing a gentleman's coin flip to Florman outside the entrance to Maine Medical Center.

Girard said Florman probably also worries about the public making judgments about him because of his income and profession.

A report published by the Sun Journal of Lewiston a few years ago listed Florman as the highest-paid doctor in Maine, earning $1 million in 2007.

During the bidding war for Ram Island Ledge Light, Florman simply told Girard he wanted to preserve the lighthouse and protect its historic role at the entrance to Portland Harbor, about a mile off Cape Elizabeth.

"He just seemed like a good guy, a quiet guy. Very private," Girard said.

Girard did not have a specific plan for the lighthouse if he had won. He already owned a small island in Saco and was intrigued by the idea of owning a landmark.

"I thought it would be a cool thing to do, and also I've been known to buy things that nobody else wants," Girard said.

"Doc called it and won," he said of the coin flip. "A nicer guy couldn't have won it."

Bob Muller isn't as congenial. While he wishes Florman the best and also described him as a nice person, Muller is still stinging from the auction process. He thinks he was the best-qualified suitor in an unexpected bidding war that drove the price well above what it should have been.

"It should have gone for about $75,000 or $100,000 at the most," said Muller, a high-tech entrepreneur from Harpswell.

Muller created the Ram Island Ledge Lighthouse Project, a collaborative effort to buy the lighthouse by selling ownership stakes in the property for between $35 and $50 online.

"We created a lot of buzz and we raised a lot of money in a short period of time," Muller said.

"But we did it in the public eye, which caused many people to be aware of the lighthouse who wouldn't have been aware of it, and who probably shouldn't have been bidding on it to begin with."

Muller said his background is in classified government contract work involving digital mapping and remote sensing technologies.

His vision for the lighthouse was to equip it with the most advanced cameras, sound recorders and various instruments. Because the lighthouse sits on dangerous ledges that are battered by waves and storms for much of the year, it would be practically impossible to bring visitors there regularly. Instead, Muller wanted to bring the property to the people via the Internet.

A percentage of the ownership fees would have gone to marine research institutes, lighthouse preservation groups and other organizations chosen by the members, Muller said.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Jeffrey Florman

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