RALEIGH, N.C.-- To the government, it was a defunct offshore light tower that hadn't helped ships navigate the waters off North Carolina in more than a decade. To a Minnesota entrepreneur, the platform out in the Atlantic is a launching pad for research into wind power and other technologies.
First, some renovations will be needed at the Diamond Shoals Light Tower, which sits about 13 miles off Cape Hatteras. Its buyer hopes to get his first view of his new property next week -- provided, of course, that the landing pad is sturdy enough for a helicopter.
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"The pilot says he's confident it will be OK," said Dave Schneider of Richfield, Minn., who plans to chopper out Wednesday for his first look. "He says if we try to land and it looks shaky, we're not going to land."
Schneider, 56, paid $20,000 for the tower and platform in September after he was the only bidder for it in an auction by the General Services Administration, which sells real estate the federal government no longer needs. In doing so, he brushed aside the GSA's 2-year-old inspection that concluded it would cost $2.3 million to renovate the structure.
He pored over the 125-page engineering report before deciding it wasn't in as poor shape as it first appeared. It's sturdy, sitting in 50 feet of water and with pylons going 150 feet into the seabed. Of the renovation estimate, $1 million is for a boat-winching system and boat, neither of which he needs. Another $189,000 was earmarked for contingencies, and part of the renovation was for labor, some of which Schneider will do himself.
And then, there's the view.
"When you look at real estate, it's always location, location, location," he said. "Who wouldn't want to have a location in the Atlantic Ocean?"
The Diamond Shoals Light Tower was made operational in 1966 to help ships cross a treacherous area nicknamed the Graveyard of the Atlantic. It was automated in 1977, removing the need for a full-time Coast Guard Crew. Its condition deteriorated over the years, and the light was extinguished in December 2001.
Schneider planned to be on the tower for four to five hours Wednesday, using cameras on hard hats to record his tour of each room, including getting measurements for all of it. The living quarters housed below the landing pad include five bedrooms, a galley and a recreation room.
Schneider wants to use the tower for research not only by Zap Water, but by other companies. He envisions researchers taking advantage of the tower's enormous space to study wind turbines, solar power, climatology, metal coatings, marine biology, and other subjects.
Schneider hopes to recruit volunteers willing to help renovate the tower in exchange for some breathtaking views and unmatched fishing and diving opportunities.
He said he's no different than the person who wants to restore a 1966 Camaro and sees one that's rusted and dilapidated but still beautiful. "I have the same situation. It's just a heckuva lot bigger," Schneider said. "It's old, it's rusty and it was made in 1966. But there's a lot of potential there."
And as for that landing pad?
"They just said they couldn't guarantee it was safe," he said.