The business of boating is in a good place in 2017. For evidence, look no further than the deal that Suntex Marina Investors LLC and Seven Kings Holdings Inc. announced in April.
Seven Kings, founder of the largest chain of marinas in the nation’s biggest boating state, Florida, agreed to sell 11 of its Loggerhead Marinas to Suntex, making the Texas-based company the largest marina operator in Florida. Although the terms were not disclosed, the deal is believed to have involved hundreds of millions of dollars.
The sale includes properties on the Sunshine State’s Atlantic and Gulf coasts with a total of 2,300 wet slips and more than 3,000 dry rack storage spaces. Suntex now owns 43 marinas in 12 states from Texas and Oklahoma to Massachusetts, including 13 in Florida. In addition to the facilities it owns, it manages several more.
The newly acquired marinas give Suntex branding in Daytona Beach, Vero Beach, Jupiter, Palm Beach Gardens, Riviera Beach, Lantana, South Lantana, Hollywood, Aventura and South Miami on the state’s east coast, and in St. Petersburg, Sarasota and Fort Myers on the west coast.
According to Suntex board member Mitch Jones of Knoxville, Tenn., the purchase was based on an upward trend in the boating community and marine industry nationwide.
“The boating community the past four or five years has experienced big changes for the good,” says Jones. “We fundamentally know how to buy our boats as consumers. There are no more second and third mortgages on our homes. Fundamentally, as an industry we’re pretty healthy right now, too.”
Jones explains that tough lessons were learned during the economic downturn and lending crisis of 2008.
“We all had some struggles, but we survived,” he says. “This industry is what I would call recession-resistant. It’s not recession-proof, but everything is much better than it was.”
The transaction was described as a win-win-win. Suntex expands its ability to offer its national customers access to prime marina locations and amenities throughout both coasts in Florida, says founding principal Bryan Redmond.
“Suntex is the recognized industry leader in providing a great marina experience, which is much more than providing a place to store a boat,” says Redmond. “Adding the Loggerhead portfolio is further demonstration of our strategic focus on owning world-class facilities in locations that allow us to provide superior customer service.”
For their part, Loggerhead Marina creators pass along a quality product to “good caretakers,” says Seven Kings/Loggerhead Marina CEO Raymond Graziotto of Juno Beach.
The third beneficiary of the sale is the Loggerhead Marinelife Center, an environmental education and sea turtle rehabilitation center in Juno Beach. Jones and Suntex co-founder Johnny Powers presented the center with a donation check for $400,000 to ensure that Suntex will maintain a philanthropic partnership with the non-profit facility. The center cares for sea turtles from “rescue to release,” helps educate visitors and members on ocean and sea turtle conservation, houses a variety of exhibits and other coastal creatures and has a working sea turtle hospital. It provides free outreach programs and educational experiences for 300,000 visitors a year. The donation makes Suntex one of the largest corporate donors in the center’s history.
“We are humbled to be able to help support the work of Loggerhead Marinelife Center,” says Jones. “Our goal is not only to provide our members the most memorable boating experience, but to leave behind a legacy of pristine waterways for generations to come.”
Jones walks the walk, too. He and wife Alicia visited Loggerhead Marinelife Center several years ago during a boating vacation to visit their son, who lives nearby. Alicia Jones, Suntex’s director of communications and procurement, says that as a boater she absolutely loves sea turtles.
“We are honored to receive such a sizable donation,” says Jack E. Lighton, president and CEO of Loggerhead Marinelife Center. “As a nonprofit organization our vital work is dependent on the generosity of companies like Suntex Marinas.”
Graziotto and Jones say Suntex’s marina and customer network can help spread a positive legacy from Loggerhead Marinelife Center, too. The marina owners have adopted the Responsible Boating Initiative created at the center and put into action at all Loggerhead Marina locations since 2015. All of the marinas Suntex has acquired in Florida have earned the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Clean Marina designation, but the Responsible Boater Initiative carries that philosophy to each vessel.
“Sometimes non-boaters and those not familiar with the marine industry think of boaters as being environmentally unfriendly,” says Graziotto. “Truth is, every boater I know is among the most passionate people about the planet. They want clean water. They want really good fishing stocks. They want to make sure the manatee is taken care of. They want to make sure the sea turtle is taken care of.”
Adopting the Responsible Boating Initiative was a no-brainer, Jones says.
“Suntex is going to go to every tenant, every guest, every marina person we have and make sure that they are not discharging out of their boat, that they learn how to fuel a boat without dumping it into the lake or the water. It’s really a long litany of things, but we’re going to train boaters who need it. We need to show them how so they can enjoy our waterways.”
This article originally appeared in the June 2017 issue.