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Marc Rowan: the New Carl Fisher or the Man Who Ate Montauk?

Time will tell

For the past two years, wherever you go in Montauk where locals congregate, they’re whispering about him. He bought Duryea’s. He bought the Old Shebeen. He’s the second richest man in America. He bought the Neptune. He bought three cottages. He’s going to have cruise ships dock in the bay. He bought four more cottages.

This week: He’s in contract on Gosman’s. Rumor: not true.

He is Marc Rowan, billionaire co-founder of private equity firm Apollo Global Management. Forbes estimates his net worth at $2.2 billion, which makes him the 288th richest man in America.

He’s purchased large swathes of the town so far. But all involved on the possible Gosman’s deal, for which $52.5M is being asked, are staying mum for now. He denied the rumor that cruise ships would be docking in Fort Pond Bay.

Update: We talked to Mr. Rowan on the phone, who could not have been nicer by the way, and he is not buying Gosman's and never will cruise ships dock in Montauk. Thanks for clearing that up! He is a guy who clearly just loves Montauk for what it is.

Of course, entrepreneurs have looked at Montauk greedily for more than a hundred years.

In 1879, Arthur Benson bought most of Montauk for $151,000, paying only 10% down. Benson was a friend of Austin Corbin, the owner of the Long Island Rail Road, who planned to extend the railroad out to Montauk, and therefore Benson knew the land would become much more valuable. Once the railroad was extended, Corbin could turn Montauk into a deep water port; this would also cut down on overcrowding in the Port of New York. In 1894, a bill was introduced to Congress that would create a deep water port in Montauk. The next year, the Benson heirs sold 4000 acres of Montauk to Corbin and partner Charles Pratt for $200,000. The first LIRR train pulled into Montauk later that year. In 1896, a steel pier 400 feet long was built for steamers.

So what happened? Corbin died in 1896, which put a crimp in his plans. Also, Corbin didn't figure out that Fort Pond Bay is too shallow and rocky to handle ships that size and could not be dredged.

The next person who bought up most of Montauk, of course, was Carl Fisher. He also wanted to make Montauk into a transatlantic port. In 1925, he bought the entire peninsula of Montauk, 10,000 acres in all for $2.5M (that's about $315M in today's dollars). His dream was to develop Montauk into the Miami Beach of the North. Fisher wanted the Gatsby crowd to think, "Miami Beach in the winter, Montauk in the summer."

Fisher's first Montauk building was the 250-room Manor Hotel, which opened in June 1927. He also built a polo field, the Montauk Yacht Club, the Montauk Tennis Auditorium (now the Playhouse), the Surf Club with its enormous oceanside pools, the Beach Casino, and a boardwalk. He developed downtown Montauk into the town we know it today (and the seven-story office building in the downtown plaza he created was then the tallest building on Long Island). The Montauk Community Church he built still stands, and his pink sidewalks largely remain. For the maids, porters, and croupiers to work in his establishments, he built a section of town still known as Shepherds Neck, complete with grazing sheep. Unfortunately, Fisher's vision came more or less to an end with the crashing of the stock market in 1929. The Montauk Beach Development Company went into receivership in 1932.