EDGEWATER, FL — The city is annexing Boston Whaler into the city limits and changing zoning on a vacant piece of land next door, setting the stage for a massive expansion.

If everything falls into place, the estimated 2-year expansion plan could dwarf one carried out by the Illinois-based Brunwick Corp. subsidiary two years ago. That 18-month, $10 million expansion added more than 120 jobs, bringing the boat builder’s work force to more than 700.

A concept proposal designed by Parker Mychenberg and Associates could add around 350 jobs, more than 273,000 square feet of office and manufacturing space in 13 new buildings, a 9-acre wooded buffer for the manufactured homes next door and parking, while leaving space for a new city park with docks and riverside access.

But Rebecca Cruz, Boston Whaler’s vice president of operations, cautioned against too much optimism in a recent phone interview.

“We’ve got a lot of work yet to do,” Cruz said, adding the land is one of at least three sites she has evaluated for the expansion.

The boat builder and a local engineering firm petitioned the city for annexation in the name of the current landowner, Transcapital Bank of Sunrise. Transcapital also applied for a change of zoning from residential to industrial for the nearly 60-acre property just north of Boston Whaler’s location and just south of the gated subdivision Hacienda del Rio.

The previous landowner, who last purchased the property in 2004 for more than $3 million, according to the Volusia County Property Appraiser website, intended to build a subdivision on the land, but plans fell through and the property went into foreclosure. Residents nearby were vocal in their opposition to the earlier plans at that time. But at a recent City Council meeting where leaders unanimously supported the annexation, several residents spoke highly of their industrial neighbor’s use of the land for growth.

Resident Georgeanne Keller said she was relieved to see that plans appeared to leave the Indian River alone.

“I think this is going to be good,” she said.

Another resident, Arthur Litowitz, said he welcomed an expansion, too. Like Keller, he had concerns regarding the river, but city manager Tracey Barlow assured him that any work near the river would involve oversight by state and local agencies, “and would be an improvement on what’s already there.”

Considering other sites

City Council members sung Boston Whaler’s praises at the meeting, too, giving the annexation and land-use change a unanimous thumbs-up at a first hearing. The second hearing is expected sometime in May, according to the city manager.

But company representatives, in a phone call last week, verbally eased on the brakes, saying the adjacent property — however convenient — is not set in stone.

“It’s not a foregone conclusion,” said Jeffrey Vaughn, vice president of sales, marketing and customer service.

Company officials say the property Boston Whaler is considering used to house an old concrete plant.

“There’s also an entire environmental portion of looking at that land,” Cruz said. “Let’s say we find pre-stressed concrete buried about 200 feet underneath that we have to dig up at a cost of $10 million. That might make us go, ‘Uh, no,'” Cruz said.

Cruz said if the property is a good fit, they could envision a purchase in about six weeks, but added it’s the third property she’s vetted in just over a year.

She said she wasn’t willing to talk about the other properties and when asked, she wouldn’t say whether they were in Edgewater.

Tax incentives possible

Edgewater Mayor Mike Ignasiak is getting his hopes up, adding that the city is in the process of preparing tax incentives to offer Boston Whaler.

“Everybody’s really happy with situation and the setup,” Ignasiak said.

Barlow said the city has a couple of standard tax incentives they can offer the company to stay put.

He said one program the city can offer is through a partnership with the state and county. It would provide the boat builder with a “direct tax incentive based on the number of jobs they create and the number of high paying jobs.”

Another program could abate increases in taxes the company would incur from the expansion for up to 10 years.

The city would still receive the taxes the company is paying now, Barlow said, but Boston Whaler’s tax bill wouldn’t increase for the length of the abatement program.

The programs haven’t officially been offered to the company; Boston Whaler hasn’t asked, Barlow said.

Boston Whaler voiced interest in the property last summer after another prospective buyer’s plans to store heavy equipment on the property fell through. And, like Ignasiak, Barlow is looking to keep the company here.

“My hopes are up without a doubt,” Barlow said. “But it’s never done until it’s done.”

Casmira Harrison, The Daytona Beach News- Journal