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Famous yacht brand Bertram sets up shop in South Tampa

Earl Blackwell, vice president of production for Bertram Yachts, shows off the first model to be built in Tampa: the 35-foot Moppie. It will cost about $750,000.
Earl Blackwell, vice president of production for Bertram Yachts, shows off the first model to be built in Tampa: the 35-foot Moppie. It will cost about $750,000.
Published Jul. 14, 2016

TAMPA — An iconic yacht brand that has produced just a few new boats in the past decade has reopened under new ownership in South Tampa. The owner said he plans to hire between 200 and 450 employees over the next six years as the brand returns to the fold.

An Italian company, the Gavio Group, purchased the name and rights to the Bertram brand in March 2015 and founded Bertram Yachts LLC. Two weeks ago, it purchased the former Lazzara yacht-building facility off S West Shore Boulevard, near the Westshore Yacht Club and the Hula Bay Club, for about $10.1 million, according to property records.

"They've emerged from the ashes," said Thom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association. "It certainly is an iconic brand that has been around for a long, long, long time."

Florida leads the nation with its $2.6 billion boating industry with nearly 890,000 registered boats, according to the association.

While Tampa Bay already plays an important role in that industry, Bertram has the potential to become one of the most prominent boat manufacturers in the area, Dammrich said. He pointed to the classic, vintage look of the boats as a big selling point.

"Bertram was one of the first offshore sport fishing vessels made," he said. "Through the years they had great designs, great quality, great ride."

The parent company's owner, Beniamino Gavio, has big plans for it. "They used to say, 'The sun never sets on the Bertram Empire,' " Gavio said. Over the years, "They changed the boat a lot and I said, 'Let's start again.' "

In the past year, the Bertram team has been working with Sarasota-based Michael Peters Yacht Design to re-create the brand's original boat: the 35-foot long Moppie, also known as the Bertram 35.

He said nine people have made reservations for their own "semi-custom" Bertram 35s, which start at $750,000. The company is also developing a 60-foot model.

Gavio has named Peter Truslow, who spent 20 years leading EdgeWater Power Boats, as chief executive officer. He also brought on Earl Blackwell, who has been building boats in Tampa Bay since 1980, as vice president of production.

"It's a unique American brand," he said, likening it to Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

In its heyday in the 1970s and '80s, Miami-based Bertram employed thousands of people as the boats were sold to buyers around the world. It was one of the first to build boats with a deep hull that gave it a much smoother ride in open waters.

Bertram has committed to hire at least 140 people by 2019 in exchange for $700,000 in county, city and state incentives, according to Hillsborough County's Economic Development Department.

"Three other states did their best to lure Bertram's international headquarters, and the competition for this project was intense," Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller Jr. said in a statement Wednesday.

The family-owned company failed to restart after a 10 percent federal tax on luxury items devastated the industry in 1990. In the late 1990s, the family sold the brand to the Ferettii Group, Truslow said.

Ferettii constructed two 80-foot boats several years ago, but nothing since. Around that time it relocated to Merritt Island where it was eligible to receive more than $1.4 million in public incentives in exchange for job creation promises, according to the Orlando Sentinel. Within a couple of years, the Merritt Island plan was abandoned and eventually Bertram was reduced to a single office in Fort Lauderdale.

Gavio said his love of the brand drew him to buy. His second boat was the Bertram 54.

His company, which makes most of its revenue by operating toll roads in Italy and Brazil, also owns two Italian boat builders: Baglietto and Cerri Cantieri Navali (CCN).

Luxury items like yachts can be a difficult sell when the economy slumps, but the Bertram team is confident there is room for another big player.

Times senior news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Alli Knothe at aknothe@tampabay.com. Follow @KnotheA.

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