By Carol McCracken (Post # 1,487)
Phin Sprague, Jr. confirmed yesterday afternoon that the last piece of his 30 year plan just fell into place. The almost ten acre waterfront property at the bottom of Munjoy Hill was sold earlier this week to a group of local investors. Hotel developer Jim Brady, Yarmouth, is one of the investors in the group. The property will be leased back to Sprague. “Nothing will change in the near future,” Sprague emphasized in a conference room of Portland Yacht Services where he discussed his plans with mhn.com. The Complex will continue to host its annual activities such as the spring Flower Show, the Maine Boatbuilers Show, the upcoming Labor Day Beer Festival, weddings and meetings in the historic buildings on the waterfront. The Polar Express will continue to run from the Maine Narrow Gauge Museum & Railroad that is on site at 58 Fore Street. The Sprague family and many volunteers brought it to the location in the 90s. In the last week, rumors have been circulating of the impending sale of the property, but they are not rumors he confirmed.
This transaction will allow Sprague to purchase land he wants to establish a “state-of-the-art” marine vessel repair facility on the city’s waterfront near the Casco Bay Bridge, Commercial Street. For the last several years, Sprague has been in the process of getting the permitting from the city and state he needs to pursue this project. It hasn’t always been easy. Last fall the Fore River tugboat captains challenged him relentlessly and his right to be there. A challenge Sprague eventually won. The mostly vacant parcel is almost 25 acres of land he just purchased from Unitil and Pam Am Railways for the New Yard facility.
The establishment of this New Yard/Canal Landing is the final piece of the 30- year plan Sprague has been putting together for years on the waterfront. He wants Portland to be on an equal footing with sailing/yachting communities like Annapolis, MD and Newport, RI. Part of that plan is to create a boat yard to handle commercial vessels and large yachts that Portland Yacht Services doesn’t have enough space to service. Portland Yacht Services is limited to reparing vessels no larger than 44 tons. PYS includes 15 buildings and 1,000 feet of waterfront is simply out of room to expand. Another part of his plan has been to give waterfront access to everyone who wants it – whether or not they can afford it. That goal has been largely realized through SailMaine which began on his property and was later adopted by the city. Christopher N. Robinson founded SailMaine on the Sprague’s property at 58 Fore Street.
The ten acres of Portland Yacht Services has been in his family for years – his mother’s family. His grandfather and cousin bought the property during the depression – around 1930. It was in his family until 1956. That’s when United Industrial Syndicate purchased it and sold it back to the Sprague family in 1978. In 1991, Phin and Joanna Sprague, who are expert offshore sailors, purchased the property from his father. His father is a direct descendent of the coal magnet, Andrew Carnegi.
The Portland Complex, 58 Fore Street, was once the center of the industrial revolution in New England, Sprague said. There is a great deal of family pride in this and the Spragues are doing what they can to keep this history alive as long as they can. Sprague turned down an offer from one prospective purchaser to tear down the buildings and build a soccer field. This group of investors, who want to maintain a low profile, is particularly sensitive to the Sprague family history and will permit this heritage to live on visibly for an indefinite period of time.
In the fall, Sprague hopes to begin work on the New Yard by cleaning brush and preparing the ground to serve as a ship yard for large and tall vessels – such as the Ocean Classroom fleet of boats – including the Spirit of Massachusetts, the Amistead, the Harvey Gamage, the Lettie G. Howard and others. “We are very excited that this plan is moving forward,” said Greg Belanger, executive director of the Ocean Classroom Foundation. “Right now, we are forced to move around from port to port, but we have always envisioned having one home port for our fleet.”
“They will be docked here in Portland,” said Sprague of the Ocean Classroom fleet. “My job now is to get to work and get these vessels here.” And maybe others as well. Then I can go sailing. “I really want to go sailing again, ” Sprague said grinning broadly. He met his wife, Joanna, on an around the world cruise.
That’s the 30 year plan.
For more background information on efforts by local tugboat captains to sink New Yard, please see Post # 1,266, dated 11/27/12. For more information on Ocean Classrooms, please visit Post # 1, 427, dated 6/13/13 herein. Pls. also visit Post dated 3/21/09 herein for more background on PYS.