A strategic stretch of the Vineyard Haven working waterfront is for sale and an Island group hopes to form a nonprofit to buy it, the Gazette learned this week.

Owned by the DeSorcy family, the four parcels of prime commercial waterfront property fronting the Vineyard Haven harbor have been offered privately for sale with an asking price of $8 million, according to several people familiar with the offer. Leo DeSorcy, an officer of the trust that hold the properties, declined comment this week.

Map outlines property area for sale. — Graham Smith

“It’s not on the open market yet,” explained Nat Benjamin who owns the Gannon and Benjamin Marine Railway and is a member of the group trying to buy the properties. “The DeSorcys have offered it to us first and they are giving us a reasonable amount of time to put together an offer.”

Mr. Benjamin said the group that has formed aims to preserve the marine and water-related use of the land and buildings.

“We’re very concerned. It’s a critical piece of waterfront property. It’s sort of the heartbeat of the waterfront,” he said.

The properties include numbers 30, 34, 42 and 46 Beach Road. The combined area of the four parcels is 1.18 acres, according to assessors records. The properties are assessed at a combined appraised value of $4.5 million. There is 185 feet of water frontage in the four properties combined, according to assessors records.

In addition to Gannon and Benjamin, buildings on the properties include the Martha’s Vineyard Times, two art galleries and two small apartments, a commercial warehouse, and the site of a former paint store.

John McDonald, a member of the Martha’s Vineyard Museum board of directors, is chairman of the group working to secure the properties. He said the group’s mission is to preserve and continue the marine use of the land and buildings, while promoting job preservation, job creation and year-round housing.

“I think a lot of people are going to get involved,” Mr. McDonald said. “What we would like to do initially is raise $250,000 just from local people, small gifts, to get the vision statement well enough oiled so we can go out to the greater population and raise , hopefully, some bigger gifts. To pull this off is going to take some serious dough.”

He said the initial vision of the working group is to open up the property to tenants connected with science, oceanography and the arts.

“Good things can happen in this niche-y little traditional watercraft world,” Mr. McDonald said. “If we can get it as a center, not just Gannon and Benjamin but as a center for all the related arts, I think it’s going to cement Vineyard Haven as a world class center. All that stuff is happening right now, and they feed on each other. I think this would be a great opportunity to have it all work together more seamlessly than it is at the moment.”

The area is zoned for commercial waterfront use with restrictions that are part of a district of critical planning concern (DCPC) created for the area through the Martha’s Vineyard Commission. Commercial use is restricted to water dependent businesses in a zone that runs 100 feet back from the high water mark. Permitted uses in that zone include aquaculture facilities, boat yards and marine terminal facilities. The deep water Vineyard Haven harbor is also a documented shellfish resource for scallops and hardshell clams, and spawning area for winter flounder.

Longtime Vineyard Haven family owns strategic stretch of waterfront. — Jeanna Shepard

Beyond the 100-foot mark from high water, zoning bylaws allow for consumer, professional or commercial service establishments, professional, business, or social service offices and retail trade.

The DCPC was created in 1999. “The commission specifically finds that controlled development of lands and waters within the Vineyard Haven harbor district is essential to the maintenance of the Island’s unique cultural, historic and economic values,” commissioners wrote at the time the district was designated.

Mr. Benjamin said the effort to buy the property is in its very early stages.

“We’re trying to put together a group and define our mission, and make some very general plans for the property, using as many of the buildings as we can as they are,” he said. “The stage is so early there’s a lot of balls in the air and none of them have landed yet.”

A respected wooden boat architect and builder who established the Gannon and Benjamin shop with his partner Ross Gannon in 1980, Mr. Benjamin said it is important to preserve the maritime heritage and traditions of Vineyard Haven.

“Our mission is to preserve and expand traditional wooden boat building, to continue the education, training, and internships we’ve been doing,” he said. “To provide employment, and we also want to provide public access to these activities, and to the waterfront.”

Melinda Loberg, a Tisbury selectmen who has been active in waterfront issues, said the parcels are of huge importance to the town.

“All the waterfront has been important,” Ms. Loberg said. “There has been a lot of changing of hands, and generational shift. The Boch property and the DeSorcy property are both in the hands of the next generation.”

This story has been changed from an earlier version that reported incorrectly on the combined appraised value of the properties.