Bret Anderson’s Vision For Spa Creek
By Kymberly Taylor | Photography by Jennifer Kolosky Eastman
True artists respond viscerally to a paintings’ lines, proportions, fields of color. Mistakes can actually assault (I have been told) the highly trained eye. Experienced builders are much the same. In a split second, they can assess a structure’s “bones,” pinpoint a flaw in a brick lintel, and perceive a poorly placed joist. This is the case with Bret Anderson, founder of Pyramid Builders and owner of the new South Annapolis Yacht Centre.
Five years ago, he strolled through Sarles Boatyard and Petrini Shipyard on Spa Creek. The views across the creek were stunning, but his eyes were elsewhere: scanning foundation cracks, noting exposed rusty nails, standing polluted water, peeling lead paint on degenerating buildings. With a builder’s intuition, he sensed death in the air. Not just physical death—the historic marina’s connection to the waters of Annapolis was also disappearing.
“When you think about Annapolis, it has a lot of history, a lot of longtime residents. And these residents think about Annapolis as it is now. I love Annapolis. I love its connection to the water. But I think about buildings. And this marina, this property is past its life span.”
He notes that “Sarles for 102 years has been scraping, grinding, sanding old boats with lead copper and fouling paints. Every time it rained it ended up right in Spa Creek.” Annapolis receives 44 inches of rain a year, he calculated. “For every inch of rain, the entire site generates approximately 54,000 gallons of storm water runoff. Do the math. That’s close to 2.4 million gallons of rainwater a year.” As an entrepreneur, yachtsman and Annapolitan, he knew he had to fix it.
He purchased and joined the two properties in the summer of 2012 and since then has been hard at work replacing failing structures and restoring the shoreline. On the table before the City of Annapolis is his grand vision—a proposal to build in its place an environmentally conscious “Maritime Village” composed of a marina, 11 residences, including a 46,000-foot-maritime center composed of several maritime buildings. Once approval is granted, a state-of-the-art marina will be integrated with residences, offices and a new working boatyard sensitive to Eastport’s folksy charm and natural beauty, with gardens, green spaces and a welcoming pathway along the waters’ edge.
There is controversy surrounding the project. There are those concerned the project will change the old-time feeling of Spa Creek and introduce more traffic, people and commerce. “I do realize that change is often difficult to see unfold, in particular when you’ve been used to a certain condition for so long.… I do believe that once everything is built, done and operational, an overwhelming majority will see this project for truly what it is, a benefit to the community.”
He is aware of what he describes as “the small but persistent voices” who oppose change. “You cannot be an entrepreneur and be deterred by the naysayer and those with limited vision and limited thoughts. You have to keep going and listen to your internal thinking.” Anderson says his goal is not to just build a village but to take the opportunity to improve Spa Creek’s marinas and restore its shoreline, to create a legacy for the generations to come. He is somewhat of a paradox, both developer and eco-conceptualist, able to envision an environmentally progressive maritime environment integrated with residences, maritime office space and marina boatyard. That may make some uncomfortable.
“Entrepreneurs constantly have vision, constantly adjust their vision often times by instinct and not always measured on a spread sheet or scale. They have an instinct to believe and see, to make adjustments that are not tied to prevailing thoughts or the way things have been done in the past,” he says.
He elaborates on a possible future. The old marina could accommodate 100 boats, the new one 70. He removed 46 tractor trailer loads of rubbish, 19 derelict boats tied in place with no owners, and 17 contaminant sites harboring harmful solvents, tainted gas and hazardous materials. “Every time both marinas had to deal with contaminates, they placed them in a barrel, drum or bucket and left it on-site … these are all a ticking time bomb for a major environmental catastrophe.”
The ambitious project does not daunt Anderson. His passions for boating, building and the water have ignited. There is no stopping now. “I think about the city of Annapolis and I think about its grandeur in so many ways … it has history, charm, the Naval Academy, State House. It has all of these things but more than anything it has a connection to the water. I have over 30 years of building experience. I truly understand volume and mass. I have an affinity for nice things. I think about embracing that and strengthening what is wonderful about Annapolis—its connections to the water for the next generation.
It is exhausting to walk through the building site. Cavernous bays are littered with old doors, fallen beams and shattered windows. When shut inside the original boathouse, one cannot help but think of a film noir—you’re trapped in time as a building perpetually caves in, with room after room of despair. In the shadows a gigantic rusting winch looms, and looks almost other-worldly. This is Anderson’s real goal: To bring two worlds together in a new village that respects the past enough to embrace and build upon it.