PORTLAND – A large-scale boat yard could bring new life to a largely vacant part of Portland’s waterfront and put the city on the map as a place to repair pleasure and commercial boats, says the businessman who wants to build it.

Phineas Sprague Jr., president of Portland Yacht Services, met with city officials about two weeks ago to discuss his plan for Canal Landing at 40 West Commercial St.

He told the officials that he will seek permission to expand his boat repair and storage business, which now operates at 58 Fore St., onto a 16-acre site on the Fore River.

City planners describe Sprague’s project as major in scope. It will need approval from the Planning Board.

Sprague said Thursday that he would like to repair bigger boats, including tugboats, barges and other commercial craft, at the new boat yard.

At his current location, he can haul boats that weigh as much as 44 tons. The new site would have the capacity to haul boats weighing as much as 1,500 tons, he said.

Sprague said he has a purchase-and-sale agreement with Pan Am Railways for about 14 acres and has come to terms on a lease agreement with Unitil, the natural gas company, for an additional 2 acres that are now fenced in and used to store propane tanks.

The parcels would be combined to form Canal Landing.

The site is across from Graybar Distributors on a half-mile stretch of Commercial Street, between Benny’s Fried Clams and the Casco Bay Bridge. Most of the land on the waterfront is wooded or overgrown with shrubs.

“The real problem (at 58 Fore St.) is all the growth we’ve seen there,” Sprague said Thursday. “We are bumping into the marina and the events we do. It’s time to move.”

The Fore Street property, known as the Portland Co. Marine Complex, is home to Sprague’s full-service marine business — Portland Yacht Services — and hosts weddings and large-scale events including the annual Maine Boatbuilders Show and the Portland Flower Show.

It also is home to the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad and Museum.

Sprague put 58 Fore St. up for sale in 2007 but has been unable to sell it. The 10-acre property, as listed on The Boulos Co.’s website, features 1,000 feet of waterfront and 15 buildings, some of which were built in the 1840s. According to Sprague, the price is negotiable.

“I can’t live my life on the 10 percent chance that someone will buy it,” Sprague said, so he’s moving ahead to develop more space for a boat repair yard and storage facility.

Sprague declined to say how much his project would cost, but indicated it would be developed in phases over a period of years.

City officials say Canal Landing apparently would comply with the requirements of Portland’s Waterfront Port Development Zone, where the project would be located.

Alex Jaegerman, director of the city’s planning division, said he thinks Sprague’s project is well suited to the district.

“We have planned and zoned for that area to be a marine district,” Jaegerman said. “That particular site offers deep-water frontage.”

Jaegerman said Sprague is required to hold at least one neighborhood meeting before going before the Planning Board to start the review process. A meeting has not been scheduled.

The West End neighborhood overlooks the property.

Sprague, 63, started Portland Yacht Services in 1981 in the basement of his home in Cape Elizabeth. His first job was putting a fender on a Boston Whaler owned by the Prouts Neck Yacht Club. He moved his business to Fore Street a few years later.

The expansion to West Commercial Street would enable Sprague’s boat repair business to grow and give him the space he needs to host more events at 58 Fore St. He now has 34 employees at his boat yard.

Sprague said he sees an opportunity to help establish a name for Portland’s marine community by opening a boat yard that’s capable of repairing vessels of any size from around the world.

“It’s an incredible harbor and it needs a boat yard,” he said. 

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

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