Front Street Shipyard seeks to expand onto city propertyPotential deal could result in sale or lease of city property
Belfast — Front Street Shipyard is poised to make a significant expansion to its operations as it looks at hiring additional workers and purchasing or leasing city-owned land, but the potential deal has some city officials concerned.
The proposal involves purchasing or leasing property from the city in order to construct a new boat shop, in addition to hiring about 40 new people. Currently, Front Street Shipyard employs 96 people. The boat shop would also house a new 330-ton-capacity Travelift used to haul yachts up to 160 feet long.
President J.B. Turner said the company considered three properties: the city parking lot directly next to building 5; property near the Belfast Maskers' Theater building and the final option –– and most undesirable –– the piece of property where building number 4 is located.
The third option would require Front Street Shipyard to tear down building number 4 and rebuild it to larger specifications.
“We would prefer not to tear it down, because then we would lose all that storage,” Turner said of building 4.
If the proposal is approved by the City Council, Turner said, work would need to begin shortly to construct the new building, because the Travelift needs a place to be stored. He said the company is hesitant to pursue purchasing the lift until approval is granted for it to acquire additional property.
The parking lot has 96 spaces –– seven of which are located on the street, City Planner Wayne Marshall said. The parking lot was never constructed to service the downtown area; instead, the city built it as part of an agreement with the former Belfast and Moosehead Lake Railroad, Marshall said. In exchange for the parking lot, the city acquired the Thompson's Wharf property.
Not only does the lift need a building it can fit into, Front Street Shipyard must also reinforce the pier the Travelift uses to haul boats. Turner said there is a limited window of opportunity to do that work, as the pilings can only be drilled at a specific time of the year.
Turner said Front Street Shipyard would prefer to be able to purchase the property rather than leasing, but it is willing to work with the Council to come to an agreement.
On the jobs front, Turner said the 40 new positions would cover all trades, from electricians to riggers and yard workers. Turner said 63.5 percent of Front Street Shipyard’s workforce is comprised of Waldo County residents. He said the company hires locally when it can, but that isn’t always possible.
“If we can find the talent locally, we hire it,” Turner said.
City Manager Joe Slocum said the city leases the piece of property where building number 4 is located to Front Street Shipyard. He said the city typically pursues leases in instances where there may be questions about how good a fit the business is for the area. As part of the property lease, Front Street deeded a small parcel of waterfront land to the city. In addition, Front Street has the option to purchase the land they are now leasing within five years, Slocum said.
If the city opts to sell the land, Slocum said there are two characteristics of the parking lot that must be considered: the first is that the parking lot, as well as the existing building 5, are located in a flood plain. Buildings located within a flood plain must have their lowest habitable floor elevated one foot above the base flood elevation, according to the city ordinance; however, the one exception to that requirement applies to boat shops, which do not have to be raised structures.
The second is to address any environmental issues that may exist, as a result of previous activity in the area where the parking lot now exists. Economic Development Director Thomas Kittredge requested permission from the city council at their Dec. 4 meeting to conduct the audit.
Slocum said the city is pursuing a Brownfields Assessment grant from the state, which will pay for the audit to be done on the Front Street parking lot, as well as the buildings and land around the buildings formerly leased to the Maskers. In addition to the environmental audit, Slocum requested an appraisal be conducted on the parking lot and the city owned land around the building formerly leased to the Maskers
Marshall said the environmental issues that must be addressed under the parking lot are different than the low level contaminants found in the soils near the Belfast Maskers building. He said the contamination is comprised mostly of hydrocarbons, which can include gasoline and oil products, which would need to be addressed before a building can be constructed. Also, Marshall said there is a pipe system under the parking lot that was installed when a fuel company used to operate in the area
While the success of Front Street is lauded by councilors, the possible acquisition of city property is of particular concern to Councilor Mike Hurley, who said he is going to be “very, very careful” when considering the proposal from Front Street Shipyard.
“We don’t have a lot of property,” Hurley said.
Hurley noted that Front Street Shipyard’s location didn’t leave a lot of room for expansion, which is why the company is now looking at city property. Even though Hurley said he hopes to see Front Street Shipyard continue to be successful, he said he was concerned that the potential land deal could result in the company's owning half of Belfast’s waterfront.
“People are happy with Front Street Shipyard, and so am I,” he said. “I’m just very concerned about protecting city property.”
Even though he has concerns, Hurley said, he is not ruling out that an agreement can be reached. He said he would just prefer that a significant portion of the waterfront and the inner harbor not fall under the ownership of one entity.
Councilor Eric Sanders said he is supportive of expansion by Front Street Shipyard, but he noted in an email to the Republican Journal that he is protective of how city property is used –– especially in relation to the Harbor Walk.
"I would not support it on certain city property, certainly not the Maskers' property. The only potential solution I am really interested in seeing more of at this juncture would be the potential placement of the new building on the parking lot by their current building 5," Sanders wrote.
Overall, though, Sanders said he is pleased that additional jobs could be brought to the area. Not only would Front Street Shipyard be increasing its workforce, but the construction of a new building would also lead to employment opportunities for contractors, Sanders wrote.
While favorable about the success of Belfast and the initial proposal, Councilor Roger Lee said he wants to hear from his fellow councilors and from city staff before making a decision. However, he said, the success of Front Street Shipyard has benefited the city and he would like to help the business continue to be successful.
"If the city can do something to further that success, and still have the vibrant waterfront area of restaurants, bars and shops that has been envisioned for that stretch of the Harbor Walk -- what we've come to call 'restaurant way' –– then I will be a supporter. But parking is a big part of Front Street's future success; they will need to find a way for more than 150 employees to park if this expansion occurs," Lee wrote in an email.
Councilor Mary Mortier declined to comment on the potential deal prior to the Council meeting. A request for comment from Councilor Nancy Hamilton was not immediately returned Friday, Nov. 30.
Since opening in 2011, Front Street has continued to expand, with its most recent acquisition being the former Belfast Boatyard property. Turner said he will make a presentation to councilors during the regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday, Dec. 4.
Republican Journal reporter Ben Holbrook can be reached at 338-3333 or at email@example.com.