The port of La Rochelle, on France’s Atlantic coast has the unique distinction of being one of five “state ports” that are owned and operated by the country’s national Department of Transport. It is the smallest of the five (which include Marseille and Le Havre), each of which fall under the state’s auspices as a result of their economic importance to the country. Unlike other ports in France which are operated by the local authorities, the port of La Rochelle benefits from France’s—and by extention the EU’s—coffers, which is what makes the port’s recent call to tender particularly interesting to the superyacht industry.

Michel Puyrazat, CEO of Atlantic Port la Rochelle recently extended the deadline for tenders for a project named “Your Atlantic Yachting Shipyard,” which is seeking investment and operational partners to effectively turn the centre of La Rochelle’s enormous commercial port into a superyacht marina and refit centre. The new deadline for submitting bids is 5pm on March 31.

Arial view of the port of La Rochelle, France with its enormous wet basin

According to Puyrazat, the aim of the project (.pdf) is to select a team who will help transform the port from a base focused on commercial and fishing fleet repair to a dedicated yacht refit centre.

One of the main potential bidders is the superyacht refit yard Atlantic Refit Center (ARC) who are already based within the port of La Rochelle. ARC is seeking financial partners to join them in the development project.

“We’re building a plan to present to the port and we’re seeing investors to join us,” says Stephane Marcelli, general manager of ARC. The port approached ARC a year ago to engage with the superyacht industry and seek investment partners for the project. “ARC is itself too small a company for the government to simply hand over millions of euros in investment, so we’re working to present a team of investors who we can work together with to help realize the yachting potential of the port of La Rochelle,” Marcelli says.

The goal is to develop La Rochelle into the biggest refit centre on the Atlantic coast of Western Europe, competing for the large yacht refit works with Pendennis in Falmouth Cornwall and MB’92 in Barcelona.

Detail of the area up for development, showing the wet basin and two dry docks

ARC’s plan, in line with the port’s existing idea is to develop the centre of the harbour as a dedicated yacht centre. Specifically, they want to cover the port’s big dry dock, develop a marina able to handle five or six very large yachts (60-130m) over the winter, and build a clubhouse and working areas for crew.

After the March 31 deadline, the port will select the best 5 projects, after which the second phase will begin, at the end of which the port is expected to make its final selection, likely around the beginning of June, with the structure of the plan being implemented by September after which time the investment and development will be phased.

“By the end of April, it should be clear which companies have come forward and with how much investment, which will then make clear to the port what level of investment it will be able to offer,” Marcelli says. “With the right partner, perhaps an existing shipyard, we think La Rochelle can present a really fantastic option for the big, world-cruising yachts to consider when looking at over-wintering and major refits. We think there’s room in the market for another facility that can handle the very largest yachts. Marseille can’t take yachts over about 80m, La Ciotat is great, but it’s very busy these days, Amico is building to get bigger yachts in and Barcelona is also good. But we calculate that there is need for another big facility, and we believe our location is ideal for the big global cruising yachts over 80m or so. The town is lovely, transport is easy and most importantly, we have the support of the French government to do this.”

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