Billionaire-backed Dallas company buys two marinas, offers $ 75,000 in search fees for more

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Stephen Lehn and Jacob Boan grew up boating in Texas and Kansas, but never thought their love for the water would lead them to start a business that acquires marinas across the United States.

“I grew up around marinas, but I didn’t know there could be a job behind them,” said Lehn, who turned this hobby into an investment firm called TopSide Marinas. “I saw them as just a place to park your boat. Now I have to pinch myself.

The two founders met after Lehn recruited Boan for Suntex Marina Investors, another Dallas-based company with a network of saltwater and freshwater marinas in the United States.

Friends and Partners launched a business plan for TopSide Marinas in late 2018 before officially launching in January 2020 with support from Miramar Equity Partners of Dallas and TRT Holdings of billionaire Bob Rowling, owner of Omni Hotels & Resorts.

TopSide, which works in a coworking space at The Star, made its first two acquisitions this year, choosing locations popular with North Texans.

“We searched the whole country and ended up in our own backyard,” Lehn said.

The first was Beavers Bend Marina on Broken Bow Lake in Oklahoma, a popular vacation destination for residents of North Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana. It welcomed more than 200,000 visitors this summer.

Prior to the start of the season, TopSide made a number of improvements to the marina, including 20 new wet slides for a total of 350 wet slides. It also bought new rental boats, bringing its fleet to 60.

Florida-based marina sales broker Simply Marinas negotiated the deal which took about nine months from when TopSide first heard about it.

Galveston Yacht Basin, purchased by TopSide in August 2021

In August, TopSide acquired its second marina, Galveston Yacht Basin, four months after approaching former owners Greg Pappas and Rocky Sullivan, managing members of GYB Investors LLC of Galveston. Located just minutes from the Gulf of Mexico, the marina will serve the 7.2 million tourists who visit Galveston Island each year. It has 500 wet ramps, 260 dry racks, fishing boat charters, fuel, and a retail and bait store.

Both marinas were already profitable, which means TopSide’s job is to continue to make improvements and improvements to the properties to satisfy visitors.

The company has “aggressive plans” for future nationwide acquisitions over the next six to 18 months. He hopes to acquire two to four or more next year, Lehn said.

“There is no cap on the size of our platform,” he said.

Finder Reward Program

To accelerate its growth, TopSide is offering a search fee of $ 75,000 to those who connect them to a marina they end up buying, whether it’s on a lake, river or coast. This type of reward program is not typical in the industry, but TopSide wants to reward those who help them connect them with like-minded families in the industry, Lehn said.

So far, many marinas have been submitted and TopSide is suing several, Lehn said.

The first two acquisitions were not part of the Finders Reward program as the first was facilitated by a brokerage firm and the second was found by Lehn and Boan.

“We review marinas every week across the country, from the southwest to the Great Lakes to the lakes on the Atlantic coast,” he said.

The company was formed shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic, which devastated many businesses but ended up boosting outdoor activities like boating. The National Marine Manufacturers Association reported that new boat sales rose about 12% last year to over 310,000, reaching levels not seen since before the Great Recession of 2008.

“It’s up to us to make sure we feed these boaters and help them keep going,” said Lehn.

Dallas-based Safe Harbor Marinas describes itself as the world's largest owner and operator of marinas, with 40,000 members in its network.

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