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Tax amendment takes ‘pressure off’ boatyard

Family-owned E&H Boat Works can stay put because of Amendment 6, says owner

How do you spell relief?  A-m-e-n-d-m-e-n-t 6.

Christopher Hodge still runs the E&H Boat Works his parents founded in 1946, and started up a second yard in southeast Florida because of the beneficial tax codes of the mid-1980s.

At least that’s what Christopher Hodge is thinking after Floridians voted Nov. 4 to adopt the tax relief measure for working waterfront. Some property-tax relief would be welcome, especially in today’s tough economic climate, says Hodge, president of E&H Boat Works and The Ways, both in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

E&H, a one-time full-service yard that relies mostly on contractors now, and The Ways, a self-service facility, are neighbors. The Hodge home lies between them.

Leon and Andrea Hodge, Hodge’s mom and dad, started E&H in 1946 on a piece of the 4-1/3 acres of prime Intracoastal waterfront the family now owns. The property, just north of PGA Boulevard, is on the edge of “the PGA Corridor,” some of the priciest land in Palm Beach County.

“The taxes are the only reason we invented The Ways,” says Hodge, 56. That was in 1984. “This has been an issue for us for a long time.”

Amendment 6 requires county assessors in Florida to set the taxable value of working waterfront on the basis of its actual use instead of its highest and best use. This helps marine-related businesses survive in neighborhoods where condominiums and other high-profit uses are driving up property values.

Hodge’s total property-tax bill now: About $110,000.

He says he’s had at least five offers to buy the property in the last few years — including from one developer who wanted to turn it into a state-of-the-art drystack marina and another who planned a mega-development with a hotel, shops, restaurants and marina. Squeezed by taxes and other rising costs, Hodge says the offers are enticing, and he’s bit at a few of them, but Amendment 6 takes some of the pressure off.

Hodge and his mom are prepared to stay, though that’s far from a certainty, he says.

The boatyard is all Hodge knows. He still has an E&H pay stub for work he did at the yard when he was 10 years old — for 10 cents an hour.

“I’ve probably been working here for 45 years,” he says. “It’s the only job I’ve ever had.” He lives in the family home on the property, so he walks to work.

“The idea of selling [the yards] and driving someplace other than the boatyard to work is kind of scary,” he says, so he remains partial to keeping on keeping on.

Hodge says the industry has changed a lot since his parents started E&H and built its vintage marine railway. He still uses it to haul boats, and it’s especially good for lifting wooden boats — Whittakers and Ryboviches — because it doesn’t squeeze their hulls. A 70-ton Travelift hauls boats at The Ways.

Today, Hodge employs 10. Mostly, he rents space out to contractors, but his in-house staff still does some mechanical and electrical work, carpentry and repairs to running rigging. His shipwright, Don Bishop, is an expert in wood hulls. Hank Stanciec is a specialist in rudders, gears, shafts and alignments.

“I’m the general contractor, the concierge now,” he says.

The yard works mainly on powerboats 30 to 70 feet, and the occasional sailboat. He says some sailors can be a little too tight for his tastes. “A gentleman who likes his money better than his boat — I just can’t do business with him,” he says.

Like most in the marine industry, Hodge’s business has suffered in the recession. He’s been through tough times before. But today’s credit crunch and stock market woes take the cake. “It has been devastating to everyone,” he says. “It’s a roller coaster in this business.”

 This story originally appeared in the February 2009 issue.