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Vegas area marina owner's $10M bet

Buys neighboring facility for expansion, despite economy and drought


Expanding a business in any environment can be difficult. Add in a prolonged economic downturn and a seven-year drought, and one might wonder what Bob Gripentog was thinking when he recently bought a neighboring marina to enlarge his existing operations.

“It’s a bit of a gamble,” he said, “but isn’t life, anyway?”

Interesting choice of words when you consider the two marinas are located on Lake Mead near Las Vegas, the nation’s gambling Mecca.

“I do my gambling with the marina, not at the casinos,” Gripentog said jokingly.

This spring, Gripentog completed the $10 million purchase of Lake Mead Marina, a neighboring competitor of his family-owned Las Vegas Boat Harbor marina. The family bought Lake Mead Marina from Seven Crown Resorts, an Irvine, Calif.-based company that continues to operate a marina at Echo Bay on Lake Mead and another on Lake Mohave.

The acquisition nearly doubles Gripentog’s marina, with a combined 1,400 slips, two restaurants and two stores. The family also owns a dry storage building and two boat dealerships — Dry Dock Boat Sales and Marine Center of Las Vegas — at other nearby locations.

Bob Gripentog’s parents, Bob and Etty Gripentog, started the business in 1957, when Bob Jr. was only 7 years old.

“My parents purchased what they called a marina in those days — a little spic of a dock and five buoys,” said the younger Gripentog, who now heads the operation as general manager.

The plan, at the time, was to work a little and fish a lot. That plan was reversed as the family built up the business over the years.

On the marina side, the family has faced its share of challenges, including a drought that has plagued the Southwest for nearly a decade. In 2002, the floating Las Vegas Boat Harbor marina had to relocate from Las Vegas Bay to 12 miles down the lake in Horsepower Cove, just outside Boulder City, Nev.

In February, Lake Mead Marina also was forced to move two miles south, adjacent to Las Vegas Boat Harbor, because of low water levels. Gripentog had actually started the acquisition of Lake Mead Marina last year with the purchase of 280 slip docks, and then bought the rest of the operation this spring.

The Gripentog family has already completed some renovation projects at the recently purchased marina, including new decking and some remodeling of the restaurant.

“Seven Crowns kept it going, but it was in need of a facelift,” Gripentog says.

He concedes this is a challenging environment in which to expand with the recent purchase. But he’s confident the economy and the drought conditions will be reversed and that his location on Lake Mead will ensure continued success.

Lake Mead, administered by the National Park Service, attracts more than nine million visitors each year for swimming, boating, skiing and fishing. About 96 percent of the water is from melted snow that falls in Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming.

The water level has been going down because the Colorado River runoff over the last decade has been far below normal. However, “the water eventually will come back,” said Gripentog.

“We do go into drought cycles,” he explained. “We will get wet years and dry years. This is a wet year … because there was a lot of snow in the Rockies this past winter.”

Furthermore, he said, the critical role Lake Mead plays in supplying water to several major cities in the region pretty much guarantees the lake will not dry up.

“Lake Mead is one of the major sources of water for the Southwest,” Gripentog said. “If there is no Lake Mead, a lot of those cities are going to have to disappear.”

He’s pretty sure that won’t happen.

This article originally appeared in the August 2008 issue.



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