Boating as big business? Midwest real estate pro says “yes”

Chris Charnas

Chris Charnas

by Dan Rafter

Since the spring of 2008, Chris Charnas has run Evanston, Ill.-based Links Capital Advisors to help his clients buy and sell golf-course properties across the United States. It only made sense, as the national economy improves, that when Charnas decided to expand his company, he’d focus on another key leisure-time activity: boating.

And that’s why Charnas earlier this spring launched Marina Capital Advisors, a real estate firm that will focus on the acquisition, disoposition and management of marinas, recreational ports, coastal harbors, boatyards and yacht clubs.

“Sometimes people ask me why I just don’t stick to the four food groups of real estate, multi-family, industrial, office, retail,” Charnas said. “But I’ve always loved golf, so focusing on that was a natural. I’ve always been interested in the boating industry, too. You can’t tell people that you are going to specialize in golf sales and industrial sales. They don’t fit together. But you can say you’re specializing in golf and marina sales. You put those two niches together and it makes sense.”

Charnas is teaming with Cy Oelerich, a real estate veteran who formerly worked with the company now known as CBRE, to launch the new venture.

Charnas sees a market with big potential, with about 12,000 marinas and related water-based facilities dotting the United States. And with the national economy in recovery mode — albeit a slow recovery — a greater number of clients are looking for new investments. With consumers more willing to spend money on boating today, marina properties are once again looking like solid investments, Charnas said.

“People have more disposable income again,” Charnas said. “If people own a boat, they are taking it out more. When the economy was bad, if people owned a boat, it mostly sat on a dock. Peopel are upgrading to better boats. They are spending more money on their boats, and that can only help the marina business.”

Charnas expects plenty of crossover between his golf and marina businesses. As he says, his clients are high-net-worth individuals who are often looking for new assets to purchase.

Marinas can prove attractive investments to these clients, Charnas said.

“Like anything else, if you buy them right, you can make money from marina investments,” Charnas said. “A lot of marinas are mom-and-pop operations, especially in the Midwest. Some of them are getting a bit old. The families owning them are considering exit strategies. They are looking for someone to come in an dput in place a professional management team, increase their revenues, cut their expenses and make them some money. In doing so, they can increase the value of their asset.”

Charnas, who got his start in real estate with Cushman & Wakefield in 1990, says that the skills he’s acquired since starting Links Capital Advisors will serve him well with his new business.

But there are differences between selling golf properties and marinas, he said.

“In some ways, the golf business is a little simpler than the marina business,” he said. “Each golf property has a golf course, clubhouse and maintenance facility. On the marina side, you can have wet storage, docks, dry storage, equipment rental, food and beverage and repair facilities. They might even have a hotel. There are more moving parts to it, which I think makes it more interesting.”

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