The man who runs many of Baltimore's marinas, a former captain in the Israeli navy, prefers the sky to the sea.
The only boat he owns is a gondola, which he keeps tied up at his marina in Canton.
"I love aviation; that's my passion," said Dan Naor, 47, chief operating officer of Baltimore Marine Centers, as he stood next to a cherry-red helicopter on a recent weekday. He flies it — not as often as he'd like — from Pier 7 in Canton, the base of another business he runs, Baltimore Helicopter Services.
Naor's passion for flying is matched by his excitement about revitalizing Baltimore's harbor — making it a cleaner, more stimulating place to visit, live and do business. And perhaps tie up a boat at one of his marinas, which make up nearly half of the city's recreational dock space.
When Naor first came to Baltimore, the city's waterfront was a far grittier place, more industrial and less hospitable. Naor and his business partners bear significant responsibility for the waterfront's transformation, particularly in Canton, which has become one of the city's hottest destinations for affluent newcomers.
"They've been instrumental in revitalizing the marina side of Baltimore," said Stuart Amos, who has kept a boat at Baltimore Marine Centers' Lighthouse Point docks for about five years and is involved in the city's maritime community as vice chairman of the Pride of Baltimore II's board of directors.
Rachel Roitman, Naor's big sister, describes her brother as "brilliant" — someone who's able turn his ideas into reality. "He does what he loves. He doesn't go into stuff he doesn't like," she said.
Fortunately for Baltimore, Naor's interests coincide with the city's needs. He has spent years refreshing Charm City's marinas and is now turning his attention to cleaning the Inner Harbor, expanding the helicopter business and invigorating the local waterfront dining scene with a new floating seafood restaurant.
Born in Haifa, Israel, Naor wound up in Baltimore in a roundabout fashion.
At 14, he began studies at an Israeli naval high school — his eyesight wasn't good enough for the air force. After graduating, he served as a submarine officer and as captain of a surface vessel. He left the military at 26.
Traveling in Thailand after leaving the service, Naor broke his leg and went to Roitman's house in New York to recuperate. While there, he applied for a job as a yacht captain.
Despite his bad leg, Naor was hired and entered the world of wealthy American boaters. In short order, he became the captain of another vessel, partly owned by Dr. Selvin Passen, a Baltimore pathologist.
"I've been basically trained by Dr. Passen," Naor said. "He's taught me to recognize opportunity, to have the guts to do it."
It was aboard Passen's yacht that Naor arrived in Baltimore for the first time, in the early 1990s. On that visit, Naor stumbled upon a parcel on Lighthouse Point that was for sale. He suggested to Passen and several other investors that they buy the property and build a wharf.
"My vision was a small marina," Naor said.
The investors expanded upon Naor's idea. They began making plans for the mixed-use development — residences, restaurants, retail, offices and a luxury marina — that stands today off Boston Street.
"When I came over here … there was really nothing here. And look how beautiful it is now," Naor said, climbing out of his Land Rover in the parking lot of Lighthouse Point, which has 500 boat slips and nearly 20 commercial tenants.
Naor, who works 12-hour stints at least six days a week, said his goal is to attract boaters from Philadelphia and Washington to Baltimore so they spend money in restaurants and shops — and to lure new companies to Baltimore's waterfront.
He describes the 16-acre Lighthouse Point complex as a waterfront country club, with all the amenities of a city. His first business venture in Baltimore, his little idea, became a hub of development in Canton and bolstered the city's Gold Coast.
In the late 1990s, as Lighthouse Point was being constructed, adjacent development boomed: A grocery plaza opened across the street and high-end condo complexes went up throughout the neighborhood. Naor helped develop the Moorings at Lighthouse Point — he lives there — as well as the North Shore townhouses and the Lighthouse Landing Apartments.