Miami-based Bertram's search for new home could lead yacht manufacturer away from South Florida
By Yudislaidy Fernandez
Miami-based yacht manufacturer Bertram is looking to relocate its manufacturing facility as officials say the 350,000-square-foot site it has occupied for 47 years is unsuitable for the larger, multi-million-dollar vessels the builder has in the pipeline.
But the company's search for new real estate could steer it out of Florida because waterfront land here is too expensive for boat manufacturers, a real estate expert says.
But Bertram officials say space is not behind a possible relocation.
"We don't need that much space… we have more floor space than we need right now," said Mike Myers, president and chief operating officer of Bertram Yachts, owned by Italian yacht manufacturer Ferretti Group.
The configuration of the current space is the problem, Mr. Myers said, because it's not suited for the larger high-end, sport-fishing yachts the company plans to launch.
He said Bertram is very challenged by its inability to maneuver. For example, the height of the current marine and production facility doesn't allow builders to set the bridge — the control station of a boat — on the vessel under assembly, Mr. Myers said.
"Our mix of vessels has evolved," he said. "The smallest vessel we produce today is the largest built when the company started."
Bertram plans to unveil its largest vessel yet, the 80-foot Bertram 800, next year. Bertram manufactures boats from 36 to 80 feet at prices of $500,000 to around $6 million, depending on how the boat is outfitted.
The company hasn'tidentified specific properties or locations yet, Mr. Myers said, but has met with the Beacon Council, Miami-Dade's economic development organization, to help in the search.
The current production facility at 3663 NW 21st St. would be sold if Bertram were to move.
Bertram's property search will initially confine itself to South Florida. It wants access to open water with at least 6- to 7-foot depth to test larger vessels. Also needed is a facility with roof line of about 32 feet minimum for clearance, he said.
If the longtime boat manufacturer relocates, Mr. Myers said, employees who wish to stay with the company are to be kept as long as jobs are available.
At the right price, the Bertram property could be an attractive option for boat manufacturing companies seeking space on the Miami River.
"There are boat manufacturing companies that would be interested but [the property] must be priced on the low end," said Adiba Michelle Ash, president of Ash Property Group, a local marine real estate and development company.
The Bertram property has potential if the manufacturing site and testing area on the water are put up for sale at a "good buying price that justifies the cost," she added.
The yacht manufacturer's search for new waters, she said, could land it out of Florida.
"South Florida real estate is too high for boat manufacturing," she said.
While some are located in north Florida, she said, "Most go to North Carolina because real estate is more affordable."
In 2006, Homestead's Contender Boats moved the bulk of its manufacturing to Baxley, GA, where it built a 130,000-square-foot facility on a 25-acre site previously used for making mobile homes. The State of Georgia threw in financial incentives in exchange for the move.
A departure of Bertram, which has been on the Miami River almost five decades, would leave a big void in the local marine industry, said Fran Bohnsack, executive director of the Miami River Marine Group. The group is a private port cooperative of cargo carriers and commercial businesses that promotes the Miami River — Florida's fifth largest port — as a working river.
"It would be a shame to lose them with the history they have locally producing boats," Ms. Bohnsack said, adding she hopes Miami-Dade County can provide the yacht maker an economic incentive to stay.
Bertram considered expanding its current facility in 2007, which would have made it eligible to receive about $1 million in tax refunds and incentives, but the economic downturn sank those plans. Since then, the company has also reduced its workforce.
As possible location, Ms. Bohnsack suggested the rental car lots to be empty once the Miami Intermodal Center linking multiple transit modes near Miami International Airport is complete. This ground transportation hub under construction is to house local car rental operations. The relocation would free up space at the west side of the river, she said.
"Bertram could build the state-of-the-art building they need to produce new boats."
But the relocation of marine industry businesses has already been felt on the Miami River.
"The city has been sending a negative message about the marine industry," she said.
The local marine sector has voiced concerns with what they say is the City of Miami's lack of support for marine businesses on the river.
The city, in hopes of attracting more residential and commercial development on the riverfront, changed its comprehensive land-use plan last year to remove specific mention of the Miami River as a working port.
Ms. Bohnsack mentioned that a marine business owner recently moved from Miami to North Carolina, where she says the marine industry gets more incentives, there is a strong base of skilled workers and the cost of living is lower.
But if Bertram decides to leave Miami waters, Ms. Bohnsack said marine industry support groups will try to keep the property occupied.
"We are committed to fill that void for the marine industry, but we are hoping they are going to stay."