Rising boat sales during the pandemic have resulted in a wave of profits for marina operators, and now one player is shoring up a dominant position in the commercial real estate subsector.
Private equity firm Centerbridge Partners, owner of Suntex Marinas, the second-largest marina operator in the U.S., is paying approximately $400 million to acquire the third-largest, Westrec Marinas, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Valued at $2.5 billion, the combined companies will boast more than 50 marinas, according to the publication.
Mergers and acquisitions have been common in the marina business in recent years. In 2020, real estate investment trust Sun Communities acquired Safe Harbor Marinas, which will remain the largest marina owner in the U.S. even after the consolidation of its two top rivals. Centerbridge became Suntex’s largest shareholder in a recapitalization last year.
The National Marine Manufacturers Association reported annual sales of boats, marine products and services hit $49.3 billion in 2020, a 14 percent increase from 2019. Powerboat sales in 2021 were expected to exceed 300,000 for the second straight year.
“People who were [boating] some of the time are doing it more, and others are doing it for the first time,” Billy Rahm, Centerbridge senior managing director, told the Journal.
Another benefit to marina owners came in 2019, when the IRS ruled that fees paid for boat slips and storage could be counted as real estate rents, bestowing real estate investment trusts with tax benefits akin to those on other types of commercial properties.
While the marina sector is benefiting from people turning to boating as a hobby or socializing activity during the pandemic, there are still risks lurking in the water. Inflation could increase labor costs associated with marinas, such as dockhands and maintenance crews. Climate change is also a concern for the entire boating industry; Centerbridge has started investing in storage locations at higher elevations, according to the Journal.
Still, the sector could be poised for further consolidation. Centerbridge estimates there are about 11,000 marinas in the U.S., the majority of which are owned individually.
[WSJ] — Holden Walter-Warner