Meet the man with a marina plan


The co-backer of Queenstown’s proposed $10 million Frankton marina admits he’s partly inspired by wanting somewhere to park a boat. 

American entrepreneur Nasser Barabi – who has a Queenstown holiday home – says his family is full of keen boaties but he won’t put one on the lake when the only option is to moor it. 

“We’re not going to put our family on a row-boat to go to our boat. 

“We believe there are a lot of people like us who have secondary homes in Queenstown but would not even consider having a boat here if you don’t have a marina.” 

A week before Christmas, Queens­town Lakes District Council appointed Lakes Marina Projects – owned by Barabi, his elder brother Iraj and local boatie Alan Kirker – as its preferred developer of a 196-berth marina. It will be the brothers’ first local business involvement. 

According to LMP’s expression of interest, the Barabis have more than 20 years’ experience launching successful, multiple multi-million dollar comp­anies in America’s Silicon Valley. 

Their Essai Inc company – formed in 2003 – employs 200-plus people, has sales of $US60m and services the largest semiconductor and elec­­­­tronics consumer companies in the world. 

Iranian-born 54-year-old Nasser, the Essai president, says he first visited Queenstown in the early 1990s when he was still a bachelor. 

About 10 years later, married with three kids, he brought them back during another holiday – they were so impressed they bought a house on Queenstown Hill. 

Nasser also introduced the resort to Iraj, who’s bought a neighbouring section. 

“What’s attractive about Queenstown for us is it’s safe and the culture is very close to our culture in the United States,” he says. 

“There are a lot of beautiful places in the world but you go to them only once. Here, because of the activities that are available and the setting, you can come here several times and stay longer periods of time.” 

Nasser last year spent two-and-a-half months here in total, and his children, 17, 16, and 12, went to local schools for a month over winter. 

His oldest has also applied to attend Otago University this year. 

Nasser says his presence will increase to the stage where Queens­town is likely to be one of his three primary homes. 

Nasser recalls several years ago he and Iraj saying to each other, “You know what, this lake needs a marina”. 

“I’ve been boating for many years, all my family, we do water sports any time we can.” 

Nasser, however, only stumbled into developing a marina after a chance meeting with Kirker. Kirker, who’s long harboured marina plans, has a property inspection business. 

Nasser: “We were looking at some properties and we ended up getting Alan’s advice on those.” 

The Barabis and Kirker teamed up with their marina proposal about four years ago. 

The council, however, initially ignored their plans while they entertained a proposal for a 240-berth marina by Christchurch contractor Buzz March. That proposal was thrown out in 2011 and LMP re-entered the mix when new proposals were sought last year. 

“It has been a painful experience, especially with the intentions that we have in place to do something good.”
Nasser promises his first priority won’t be maximising profit: “The number one is to have something viable that brings beauty to the lake and also creates additional commerce. 

“We have built up a reputation over the last couple of decades and we’re going to build on that,” he says.
Nasser says he can’t wait to start construction. 

So what sort of boat will he get? 

Nasser smiles: “A very nice one.” 

Marina man has no wind problem

An American entrepreneur behind the proposed $10 million Frankton marina isn’t concerned that brutal winds could destroy its structure. 

A privately-funded marina broke up in the mid-1990s in stormy conditions. 

Iranian-American Nasser Barabi (left) – whose Lakes Marina Projects has been appointed preferred developer of the new marina – says he’s aware of concerns about Frankton Arm’s sometimes turbulent conditions. 

“But we come from San Francisco Bay one of the windiest bays in the world, and there are a lot of boats there and a lot of marinas so that is not something that is going to stop us from building a structure that can withstand those conditions.” 

Lakes Marina Projects will protect its floating marina with a 4.3m-wide curved wave attenuator that will be about 320m long. 

Barabi’s locally-based business partner Alan Kirker says: “It dissipates all the wave action.” 

Barabi says it’s likely the first stage of the 196-berth marina will be finished by the end of next year.