Negotiations around the sale of the former Stinson Seafood property are rumored to have gone on behind closed doors for close to a year, but with the sale finalized last Friday, the City Council took the opportunity Jan. 18 to give the new owners an official and public welcome.

Five representatives of the buyers’ group — a consortium of local marine and high-tech industry executives and investors doing business as DUBBA LLC — were on hand for Tuesday night’s meeting, including Steven White of Brooklin Boat Yard, Kenneth and Susan Priest of Kenway Corp., J.B. Turner who recently joined Kenway Corp. after a decade at Lyman Morse Boatbuilding, and Taylor Allen of Rockport Marine.

The group plans to redevelop the former cannery as Front Street Shipyard, a boat servicing and repair facility with a 150-ton mobile boat lift capable of dry docking boats up to 180 feet in length — the largest such lift on Penobscot Bay. In the long term, representatives of the group have said the facility could expand to include boatbuilding and services related to offshore wind and tidal energy equipment.

Turner spoke for the group Tuesday, saying the focus for the next few months is to tear down the skeletal structure at the north end of the property, choose contractors, start work on the travel lift and develop a vision for buildings on the property. His remarks were brief and he closed by asking if the Council had any questions.

“I don’t have any questions,” said Councilor Mike Hurley, “I’m just really happy you’re all here and I wanted to thank you very much for choosing to take a shot here in Belfast.”

Hurley noted the last 10 years have seen a number of projects fall through, but expressed optimism for the future.

“We like your team, we like your plan and we’re very excited about it,” he said. “I think that curse is gone.”

City Manager Joe Slocum welcomed the group and also complemented City Planner Wayne Marshall as the only city official present through the whole 10-year process of trying to redevelop the site.

“[Marshall] has dogged this issue, in good times and in bad, and behind the scenes. And people would never even know, because we don’t do that stuff in front of the world, we sometimes do it very quietly, one person at a time … I’m really happy for the city of Belfast, but I’m this much happier for Wayne Marshall,” Slocum said, making measure with his finger and thumb and drawing laughter from those in attendance. “Because he wanted this so badly for the city of Belfast.”

“We wanted to hit the ground running and everybody’s really worked with us to see that through and keep the ball rolling as fast as we can to get it up and running for the summer,” Turner said.

Councilor Eric Sanders expressed enthusiasm but also cautioned  the venture comes with responsibility to the city. Sanders urged the group to make as much information available to the public as possible.

“We’ve been waiting a doggone long time for some kind of reality down there and you guys are providing that, so we wish you luck,” he said.

Councilor Roger Lee confessed to being a boater and seemed momentarily star struck before the group of marine industry luminaries.

“I’m thrilled and everyone I’ve spoken to in town [is too]. Many people, and it’s unscientific. But there’s 100 percent support,” he said, drawing laughter from the room.

Mayor Walter Ash and Councilor Nancy Hamilton each applauded the addition of a traditional Maine industry to the waterfront.

“The fact that you all are doing this in one of the worst economic climates that we’ve had in the past several decades says a lot about your optimism and your faith in Belfast,” said Hamilton.

Turner said he has reason to believe the part of the economy related to Front Street Shipyard is on the rebound.

“We’re always talking to people out in the far reaches of the Caribbean, people with lots of money relatively speaking, and they’re all seeing it, things are improving,” he said. “… There are new projects coming to us all the time that didn’t come in a year ago … That whole cycle is picking up again.”

Slocum said he is appreciative of the buyers pointing out the role the amenities of downtown Belfast played in the group locating in Belfast.

“Those art galleries in downtown Belfast are going to contribute to people who want to come here and have their boats serviced here and yet you don’t always think of an art gallery as having a catalytic effect like that,” he said.

Turner said the “big boats” aren’t going to come to places without movie theaters, banks and the like.

“They just won’t,” he said. “They’ll tell their boss. Because the crew, no matter what anybody tells you, the crew makes the decision where the boat goes … you guys have everything we could ever hope for, so it’s perfect.”

Marshall said the public review process for the shipyard will start soon, including meetings with the Harbor Committee Feb. 2, the Planning Board Feb. 9, and the Council Feb. 15 and March 1.

Marine related issues will be addressed first, including the proposed travel lift, marine wash and a commercial fisherman’s dock. Later meetings will focus on the rest of the development, he said.

Once a Muck…

As a freezing rain turned Belfast’s streets and sidewalks into a merciless sheet of ice, the Council debated the problems of the city’s only skating facility, Kirby Pond, a.k.a. “The Muck.”

Councilor Mike Hurley recounted a recent visit to the ice rink at the Midcoast Recreation Center in Rockport and asked why, in all his years in Belfast, The Muck had never been reliably maintained by the Parks Department. The snow blower doesn’t work, it has a flat tire; and a series of mishaps he likened to “The Keystone Cops.”

“That would be like if you were here in August telling us, ‘Hey, we tried to start the pool up but it doesn’t work,’” Hurley said.

Parks Commission member Robert Gordon countered that keeping the spring-fed pond clear is no easy task. Trucks recruited to plow the ice have repeatedly gone through, he said, while vehicles light enough to travel on the ice require surface-wrecking chains. Changing weather conditions often sabotage skating prospects.

“You’ve got about two acres of ice out there and if you start from the center and you blow out, you know how it packs up as it goes,” he said. “It really isn’t a simple thing to do.”

Councilor Roger Lee speculated that the problem with The Muck, may be that it is The Muck. Other council members — several of whom recalled growing up skating not on ponds but on bounded flat surfaces flooded specifically for the purpose — seemed to agree.

Parks Director Jim Bell said the department and Parks Commission plan to discuss “the future of ice-skating in Belfast,” with several outside groups, including Waldo County YMCA and the school district.

On the positive side, Bell reported lights around The Muck are now connected to a timer, allowing members of the public to turn them on for a selectable amount of time, up to four hours.

In other business, the Council:

• Approved a three-year contract with Camden Rockport Animal Rescue League for stray animal management. The city will pay the shelter $8,000 per year to accept an estimated 70 cats and dogs.

• Approved a three-year lease with Daniel Alex to run the concession stand in City Park, with the provision that Alex aim to offer an affordable menu.

The city terminated its contract and bought the building from previous operator Frank Bruce last year after Bruce was arrested for unlawful sexual touching of a minor. City Manager Joe Slocum said there will be legal language crafted to address operations.

“[City Attorney] Bill Kelly will put together the right language in the agreement that will say if something horrible is happening down there we’re gonna find a way to end this thing,” he said. “But we don’t anticipate anything horrible happening. We actually anticipate quite a bit of cooperation and collaboration.”

• Approved a request by the nonprofit Coastal Fine Art Alliance of Maine to hold a three-day art festival with 30 to 35 participants in Heritage Park Aug. 5, 6 and 7. The group has hosted previous art fairs in Southwest Harbor and Kennebunk, according to representative Kathleen Buchanan, who anticipated 30 to 35 artists would participate in the Belfast art fair and approximately 1,000 people would attend.

“The group is founded to create venues where higher end art could be sold without having to compete with the hula hoops, which is a lot of what you see at many of these events,” Buchanan said. “We really try to strive for a gallery atmosphere; we have merchandise ranging into the eight and nine thousand dollar range.”

• Authorized the Belfast Maskers to construct a stage at Steamboat Landing for the theater group’s summer productions. The stage will remain in place from June 20 to Aug. 10.

• Approved a new fee schedule for rental of Belfast Boathouse. Under the new rules, all parties requesting to use the building will be charged a fee, but Slocum said there might be cases when the Council will vote to pay the fee on behalf of the applicant. He gave New Year’s by the Bay as an example.

• Voted to adopt simplified meeting minutes indicating the name and topic but none of the content of comments by either Council members or members of the public. The vote follows an earlier action that established the video recordings of Council meetings as the official record.