Turkish billionaire buys Merrill Stevens boatyard

Turkish billionaire Rahmi M. Koç acquired the Merrill Stevens Dry Dock boatyard with plans to continue operating the yacht repair facility on the Miami River.

“I firmly believe this is good for the Miami River, it’s good for the industry, and it’s good for South Florida,” said John Spencer, a minority partner in the acquisition who has been leasing the yard since February 2010 and operating Spencer Boat Company.

“The new buyer doesn’t plan any changes in the use,” said Josh Bennett, a Fort Lauderdale attorney, who represented the buyer, RMK Merrill Stevens Properties LLC. The purchase closed in late November. “John Spencer, the current operator, will be part of the operating team.”

Merrill Stevens, which has handled yacht repairs for countless celebrities, including actors Johnny Depp and Nicholas Cage, Malcolm Forbes and Ivana Trump, was located on the Miami River since 1923 and operated more than 120 years, including its prior location in Jacksonville.

The facility changed hands several times since the Merrill family sold it in 2004 to Hugh Westbrook, whose ambitious plans for a megayacht hub were stymied after the twin economic downturns in real estate and the marine industry.

In December 2009, Westbrook closed the facility, but Spencer, who was a yard superintendent there, quickly stepped in and leased the boatyard from Westbrook, reopening it six weeks later in February 2010 and bringing back many of its employees. Spencer continued to lease and operate the boatyard after Coconut Grove Bank took ownership and again when the bank sold it in 2011 to David Marlow, chairman of Marlow Yachts of Palmetto, Fla.

Spencer said the facility, which has 35 employees, has handled 240-foot megayachts, but also works on 20-foot and 30-foot vessels. He said the deal emerged after he met Koç, who is part of one of Turkey’s wealthiest and most prominent families.

“He’s also a passionate yachtsman and owns boatyards in Turkey,” Spencer said.

Separately, the family-controlled Koç Group, a Turkish conglomerate with operations including auto manufacturing, energy, consumer goods and finance, is part of an investor group that acquired the historic Surf Club in Surfside in 2012 with plans to erect a luxury condominium and to restore its historic elements.

Terms of the boatyard sale weren’t disclosed, although Spencer said the real estate portion fetched $7.7 million.

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