While the Egan Maritime Institute has declined to pursue the acquisition of the former Surfside lifesaving station - which was put back on the market by Blue Flag Partners last week for $7.9 million - the town itself is exploring a potential purchase of the historic property.
Ken Beaugrand, the town’s real estate specialist, confirmed that town officials - including Nantucket Land Bank executive director Jesse Bell - toured the property this week with listing agent Carl Lindvall. The town’s interest, Beaugrand said, would involve utilizing the former Star of the Sea hostel and the other buildings on the property for seasonal and year-round staff housing.
But any potential acquisition, Beaugrand cautioned, is purely conjecture at this point.
“We’re in a very preliminary stage because we don’t have funding for it,” Beaugrand said. “We made that clear to them: there’s no funding available (right now).”
Should the town decide to proceed with making a formal offer on the property, funding could only be appropriated during the November Special Town Meeting at the earliest, which is more than eight months away. Beaugrand said the town could also turn to neighbors of the Surfside property to see if there was interest in contributing funding towards a possible acquisition.
“What Carl (Lindvall) has indicated to us is that they (Blue Flag Partners) wanted to give us the first opportunity to take a look at it,” Beaugrand said. “They will be marketing it. If we make an offer it might be attractive to them, it’s always subject to them getting a better offer.”
In putting the Surfside lifesaving station property back on the market, Blue Flag Partners is backing away from its original plan to convert the former youth hostel into a hotel while it explore a potential sale. Over the past year, its plan had been endorsed by the Historic District Commission and other town regulatory bodies.
The property at 31 Western Avenue near Surfside Beach was purchased by Blue Flag in September 2020 for $3.55 million from Hostelling International. It outbid a competing offer from the Egan Maritime Institute by just $50,000.
“Blue Flag brought the project to a shovel ready status for a full restoration and continued hospitality use,” Blue Flag co-founder Terry Sanford said in a prepared statement responding to an inquiry from the Current. “Ultimately, we aren't going to be able to give the Star of the Sea the level of attention that we believe it deserves at this time so we are seeking a new steward who will carry forward our vision to back the grandeur of this one of a kind property."
The new $7.9 million asking price - more than double what Blue Flag paid for the property in 2020 - has irked some members of the community. Beaugrand was asked about the $7.9 million price tag and said:
“From their point of view, they think they can get that asking price because they have approval for someone to put a hotel there,” Beaugrand said. “There’s some perceived value in terms of what it's worth to buy the land and have the approval to build. They created additional value in making it a commercially viable project.”
Two years ago the town struck a deal with Blue Flag Partners to lease the former hostel in order to provide housing for its lifeguards. A municipal acquisition would be geared toward similar uses, Beaugrand said.
The property includes the last remaining U.S. Life Saving Service building on the island, which dates back to 1874, and served as a lifesaving station through 1921. According to the Nantucket Preservation Trust, “the federal government retained ownership of the site until 1962, when Lilye Mason, a longtime housemother for American Youth Hostels, Inc. successfully bid to purchase the property and convert it for use into a hostel. In 1963, Ms. Mason sold the property to American Youth Hostels, Inc., now known as Hostelling International.”
It was then known as the “Star of the Sea” youth hostel for decades until the property was put on the market by the Hostelling International organization in the fall of 2020. Five bids were received, including one from the Egan Maritime Institute, but it was ultimately Blue Flag’s $3.5 million offer that was accepted.
At the time, former Egan Maritime Institute executive director Pauline Proch expressed disappointment that the property was not sold to the non-profit, and said Egan was best positioned to be the next steward of the life saving station. Despite its own $3.5 million bid, Egan could not get the necessary contingencies in place before the closing, Proch said.
In the aftermath of the sale in 2020, the Select Board voted to transfer an existing preservation restriction on the property - which prevents any alterations to the exterior of the original lifesaving building - from the Nantucket Historic District Commission to the Nantucket Preservation Trust.
“A preservation easement is an excellent preservation tool, as the restriction runs with the deed, regardless of who the owner of the protected building is,” Nantucket Preservation Trust executive director Mary Bergman told the Current on Thursday. “The preservation easement on the Star of the Sea Lifesaving Station and historic buildings at 31 Western Ave ensures there will be no changes to the exterior appearance of these important buildings without approval of NPT and the Historic District Commission. We look forward to working with the next steward of these structures significant to Nantucket’s history.”