I recently had the pleasure of corresponding with Richard Neal, the new owner of the Frying Pan Tower
- formerly known as the Frying Pan Shoals Light Station. He bought the decommissioned lighthouse from the U.S. government and converted it into a bed and breakfast for divers and fisherman.
I wanted to know how a person could take on such an endeavor, what the process was like...and whether he had any tips for people aspiring to be like him. Here’s how the conversation when:
GREG: What did it take for you to leave a career as a sales engineer to pursue this project? I imagine it was hard leaving a good paying job to assume a big risk.
RICHARD: Well, still working fulltime I and the rest of America hopefully learned after the financial crisis that it’s best to plan, prepare and be ready rather than jump into the deep water without a lifeline, both figuratively and literally in this case!
GREG: Besides GSA, where there other resources you used to find information about possible off shore platforms to buy?
RICHARD: Search Google / Bing and set ‘alerts’ in both system for key words that may catch a notice. In my case, it was either dumb luck or a computer program from the future that notified me. (if you’re inclined, see; http://www.amazon.com/Hiding-In-Anonymity-HIA-ebook/dp/B0050K0U3M
but don’t say I didn’t warn you.)
GREG: How was the GSA process? Pretty intense OR pretty easy?
RICHARD: GSA is like any government agency in that it works but just barely. I recommend if you locate anything you are interested in to contact by email and phone the agent who is handling the item. They are very valuable to better understand the nature of the item, place or property. For example, it took me 3 months to get the government to tell me directly that they couldn’t sell me the land under the tower because they “didn’t own it”! It is in international waters and outside the state and US lands.
GREG: Do you have any kids? If so, did they help with the project?
RICHARD: I’ve 4 kids, all nearly grown (2 just out of college, 2 in now) and as you might expect this seemed like another of “dad’s crazy projects” so they were only slightly involved. Now that it’s a year or so past the crazy stage, they often tell their new friends about it to impress them. lol. They have gone out and helped but it’s really my passion, not so much theirs.
GREG: Besides divers wanting to be on the water, what other types of people do you envision wanting to stay at your hotel?
RICHARD: Fishermen and just ordinary people who think it’ll be romantic, exciting, and a once-in-a-lifetime experience. (they’re right about all those btw.)
GREG: Were you able to get any government grants for research studies or light house preservation?
RICHARD: None, zip, zilch, nada! Funny but being literally “outside” their territory excludes us from any assistance. Or that’s at least what they responded with when we inquired of several groups.
GREG: What is the ocean floor like around the light house?
RICHARD: The 50-60’ depths are a combination of rocky ledges and shifting sands with lots of areas for massive spiny lobsters to hide and plenty of algae for the small varieties of fish to hide in. There’s an article in Sport Diver magazine (next month?) that has a 1/2 page article of us in it and next month or so we’ll be in Garden & Gun magazine. The bottom with the tower’s legs is a great place for everything from hogfish to grouper to shark to barracuda to maui maui to clouds of bait fish undulating with the current and in avoidance of the larger fish.
GREG: Do you offer boat rides to the nearby wrecks?
RICHARD: If we’re there on our donated use boat then yes for just fuel costs, otherwise it’s use your own boat to which we have a mooring attached close by. The Greg MicKey is 900’ away and has a good eco system of marine life to watch and swim with.
GREG: What type of food do you serve?
RICHARD: Serve? Well we do cook, but our food is basic stuffs like hamburgers, etc.. We have a full kitchen and recommend our guests bring in their provided foods and prepare them themselves onsite. (Just don’t bring a full sized lasagna! We had to run the large generator 4 hours to cool that one!)
GREG: Looking back, what were the most challenging parts of the whole project?
RICHARD: Every day just keeping the long term focus on getting it done. Not letting anyone or anything slow or stop us from moving to restoration and success. This effort is a result of multiple people pressing forward and getting it done, step by step, bit by bit and literally stair step by step! We are willing and when the waves are compliant, we are out there working to restore the tower. Our sponsors are making a huge difference in us getting it done too with key donations of parts and materials that are making a difference to us getting it done!
GREG: There was a recent forum topic on DiveBuddy were divers were asking for business plans and budgets for projects like yours (diver hotels/hostels/charters, etc)...what is the chance of you sharing that information with the members of DiveBuddy.com?
RICHARD: Budget / Business plans? Well, when you look at this from a strictly business standpoint you are hard pressed to make this make $ sense. You have to suspend a little business calculation and look at what “should be done” rather than what obviously makes sense to do. It is like buying a boat that is leaking and sinking slowly and you have to decide to either buy-in and move forward or run away fast! With the charm and beauty of the tower beckoning it is tough to just step back and ignore the possibility of letting it go and walking away from this challenge. We have stepped up and are getting many to step in and help us to make this work!
GREG: I appreciate your time in responding to these questions. DiveBuddy has over 20,000 scuba divers registered, so you should get some great exposure.
RICHARD: Well, we hope that some of your viewers do come and join our efforts and as they do, we will do our best to keep them safe, secure and provide an amazing experience for their trip!
GREG: I admire what you have done. I am sure my wife and I will visit you all one day. Keep up the good work!
RICHARD: People just don’t seem to believe this but it’s really just a come out and see us and catch the bug as we have and make the Frying Pan Tower part of your experience!