As rumors of a major shift in the Stuart, Florida, boatbuilding community swirled this past spring, it soon became evident that those rumblings were indeed true. While we always hate to see a storied property change hands, especially if it could mean that the one on the selling side might be lost ad infinitum, we also must give props to the buyer who shows a willingness to take on a project that includes nearly 64 acres of land.
Mark Willis, who established the now-esteemed Willis Marine Inc. in 1990, joined forces earlier this year with Florida entrepreneur Brooks Smith to form Willis Custom Yachts. Willis—once located on Southeast Commerce Avenue blocks from Manatee Pocket—acquired the Stuart canal-front property that was previously occupied for many years by American Custom Yachts. Willis is conducting all of its business at the Jack James Drive location, including its in-house design and CNC business, MarkCam Inc., citing additional capacity, and capability for much larger applications will now be more likely.
The expansion plan on the horizon for Willis Custom Yachts includes a 90,000-square-foot state-of-the-art manufacturing and boatbuilding facility, additional covered repair and dockage facilities, a new 150-ton travel lift, and an increase in the size of the haulout well with a proposal to purchase a 220-ton travel lift, as well as another facility east of NW Flagler Avenue for new-yacht deliveries.
Bausch American Towers, led by Tim Bausch, will continue to design, construct and install its custom towers under Bausch’s guidance, even though the subsidiary has also been included in this acquisition; it will be rebranded as Bausch Towers under the WCY umbrella. Venture—a center-console company that is also based at the property—is part of the asset as well, and plans are already on the drawing board to modernize the brand with an all-new design and subsequent tooling.
Willis is confident that the move will ensure that his operations increase new-construction capacity and shorten both build and service times. “I am very excited to be able to greatly expand our ability and offer the absolute finest quality custom sport-fishing vessels to many new owners. Having waterfront access of this magnitude changes the game for us and will vastly enhance our ability to provide the highest quality service and support to all of our customers,” he says.
Currently there are two boats under construction at the location—the 68-foot ACY Hull No. 22 and the 70-foot WCY Hull No. 15—with two more hulls slated to begin construction in the near future.
Read Next: Check out our review of the Willis 77, Uno Mas.
Doug West, who previously served as president of Rybovich in West Palm Beach and president/CEO of Lauderdale Marine Center, has also joined Willis in the venture, serving as president and general manager for Willis Custom Yachts, and, according to the company’s latest press release, “will be a major contributor in shaping the future of the facility and its operations.”
For more information of the goings-on at the new Willis Custom Yachts facility, please visit williscustomyachts.com.
This article originally appeared in the December 2021 print issue of Marlin.