Bigger lift, bigger building, bigger boats

Front Street Shipyard talks expansion, use of city land

Two months after boatyard acquisition, Belfast's boomingest business ready to grow again
Posted:  Wednesday, November 28, 2012 - 10:15pm
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Story Location:
101 Front Street
Belfast  Maine  04915
United States

BELFAST - Following recent closed-door discussions with city officials, Front Street Shipyard went public Wednesday with a proposed expansion of its waterfront complex that would include a new pier, a larger mobile boat lift, and a new workshop that would be the largest building on the property.

Shipyard President J.B. Turner said the expansion is needed to accomodate larger vessels, some of which the business has had to turn away because of the 160-ton limit of the current travel lift. 

To that end, the shipyard hopes to add a new 300-ton travel lift, which Turner said would require adding a third leg to the existing travel lift pier.

The larger lift would not fit through the doors of the shipyard's largest building, the 22,000-square-foot "Building 5" located across from the municipal waste water treatment plant on Front Street, so a new building would have to be constructed, he said.

The question — and the likely crux of future public discussions on the topic — is where?

As Turner sees it, there are three options. Of these, only one is on the shipyard's property and would require rebuilding so-called Building 4, located next to the current travel lift pier, in order to fit the new travel lift — a total height that Turner estimated at 8-10 feet higher than Building 5, or roughly 65 feet tall.

The other possible locations, Turner said, are the Front Street municipal parking lot or the property where the former Maskers Theater building sits today. Both are owned by the city, and for the all the enthusiasm around the success of Front Street Shipyard to date, the use of either one is unlikely to come easy.

From the Shipyard's perspective, Turner said none of the sites would be without problems, but the best one for the business would be the municipal parking lot. Reconstructing Building 4 would result in a loss of storage he said, and the former Maskers Theater location is harder to reach from the piers. The proposed use of that location also drew the most resistance from city officials in preliminary discussions, he said.

Front Street Shipyard currently employs 97 full time workers and Turner estimated the new building would add another 40 jobs. Stats compiled by the company show 61-percent of employees live in Waldo County and an average hourly wage of $19.34.

According to one city official speaking on Wednesday, feelings among members of the Council in the closed door discussions ranged from unreserved enthusiasm to concern that the shipyard's continued expansion would consume the last of the remaining commercial property on the waterfront.

Turner said he and fellow Shipyard representatives anticipate bringing their plans before the City Council during the next public session on Dec. 4.

In September, the Shipyard closed on a deal to buy the adjacent waterfront property that was for many years the Belfast Boatyard. Now, two months later, the business could use a little more land.

Asked if he's concerned that the shipyard is running out of room, Turner didn't seem worried.

"Every piece of property has some limitations," he said. "You just try to be as smart as you can within those limits."

Or expand them if you can.

Penobscot Bay Pilot reporter Ethan Andrews can be reached at ethanandrews@penbaypilot.com