If, by mere happenstance, you were to ever meet and engage in conversation with Jack Burbage, it’s likely that he was the first to say hello and that, despite his being a complete stranger, his amiable nature made for a surprisingly casual and effortless exchange, as if you were catching up with an old family friend you hadn’t seen in years.
You probably would have never guessed that same man leads a West Ocean City-based real estate development company responsible for more than $250 million in economic growth on the Eastern Shore. And that’s just a fraction of his most recent successes.
He’s humble, for sure. Intelligent and business savvy. Undeniably compassionate. And philanthropic to his core. He’s all the things a successful businessman should be. Though, quite often, most are not.
His character is a large part of the reason Blue Water Development Corporation has built a reputation for honesty, quality and reliability, and thus, has grown at an incredible pace in only a few years.
Born and raised in Berlin, Md., where his father served as mayor for 24 years, Burbage lost his mother to bone cancer when he was 11 years old. Her longtime battle and premature passing had a undeniable effect, both immediate and long-term. Though only a child, he was left to help care for his younger sister, while also maintaining his grades at school, as his father worked countless hours at the family’s clothing store, Style Guide.
It set a precedent for the work ethic he upholds to this day. As he grew older, and throughout college, Burbage worked part time at the store, then full time following graduation from Wesley College, where he studied business management and accounting. A budding entrepreneur with unwavering ambition, he developed Style Guide from a single location into a chain of 12 in Maryland and Delaware, astutely acquiring real estate along the way.
“I decided that the way to expand was to go to these different towns and buy the real estate, and then put a store in there and charge rent to cover the mortgage. So that, in 15 years, I’d own the land, free and clear, no matter what happened to the store.” Burbage bought property in Delaware, before making his first major, and ultimately career-changing, acquisition in Maryland — Mystic Harbour, in 1991. The defunct property had 180 homes and a failing sewer plant, but he looked past that and focused solely on the potential — fix the wastewater system, then control development.
“It just grew. The real estate grew. And then we started doing subdivisions because we had the water and the sewer to do it with.” Together with his sons, John III and Todd, Burbage developed three additional subdivisions (Deer Point, Ocean Reef and Whispering Woods) and two commercial properties (Decatur Business Center and Seaside Village) in West Ocean City.
And when real estate took a turn, they purchased Castaways Campground and directed their focus toward the hospitality industry. Today, Blue Water Development Corporation owns three upscale campgrounds (Sunset Beach Resort and Chincoteague Island KOA in Virginia and The Resort at Massey’s Landing in Delaware) and three hotels (Bethany Beach Ocean Suites in Delaware, The Commander Hotel in Maryland, and Fairfield Inn & Suites Chincoteague in Virginia), with a sundry of new ventures accumulating along the East Coast.
As the company inevitably grows, Burbage says he’s gradually stepping back from the day-to-day race. He’s “passed the baton” to Todd, and while he’s still very much an active partner, he looks forward to spending less time at his desk and more time as “Pop Pop,” on the water, with this four grandchildren.
“I see Blue Water exploding with Todd. Todd is very apt. He knows how to find deals. I see it really going several to levels above where it was at the time he took the reigns,” he says. “I’d say that this, in my prediction, will be the fastest-growing company in Delmarva. From where it’s going now, it’ll get there; we will multiply 10 times in the next 10 years. Maybe even quicker.”
Burbage has served on the Taylor Bank Board of Directors for 30 years, and has been a member of the Atlantic General Hospital Board of Trustees for 10 years. He is also co-chair of the Atlantic General Campaign for the Future, which is currently planning the construction of a regional cancer care center, named in his honor, on the hospital’s Berlin campus. Burbage also serves on the board of directors for Diakonia, and hopes to help the transitional housing facility expand, as well. In 2013, he received the prestigious Franklin P. Perdue School of Business Leadership Award, and in 2015, the Hal Glick Distinguished Service Award.