Stinson property sold, shipyard planned for siteCity settles with former owner; derelict building to come down in 60 days
Belfast — A group of marine industry executives and investors who hope to convert the former Stinson Seafood property in Belfast into a shipyard closed on the property Jan. 14.
The sale was finalized at the same time city officials settled a pair of lawsuits against the former owners of the property and signed a memorandum of agreement with the new owners to address the content of the suits.
Earlier this week, Taylor Allen, owner of Rockport Marine and a member of the buyers’ group, said the group hoped to have the Front Street Shipyard, as the facility is to be named, operating by summer.
The proposed facility will include a 150-ton travel lift — the largest such lift on Penobscot Bay, according to one of the buyers — and initially concentrate on servicing and repairing boats. The facility might later move into new boat construction, he said.
J.B. Turner — who as managing partner of the group will be in charge of redeveloping the site and overseeing the day-to-day operations of the working shipyard — said the facility could also eventually service equipment related to offshore wind and tidal energy industries.
Turner is the former president of Lyman Morse boatbuilders in Thomaston. He is currently the director of advanced technologies for Kenway Corporation.
The buyer’s group, named in city documents as DUBBA LLC, also includes Brooklin Boat Yard President Steven White, Kenway Corp. owner Kenneth Priest, and two investors, Black Lab LLC and Lucia Michaud.
The new owners declined to disclose the sale price of the 3.6-acre parcel and four buildings, which are collectively assessed at just under $1.1 million. The last public negotiations around the value of the property came at a public auction of the site in June 2008, which netted a high bid of $850,000. The owner declined the offer.
Turner said the first order of business is to tear down the derelict building at the north end of the property, known as Building 1.
As part of the memorandum of understanding with the city, the new owners are required to raze the building within 60 days of purchase, an outcome the city is seeking to guarantee by requiring the owners to set aside $125,000 in escrow at the time of the sale and to pay any additional costs.
City Manager Joe Slocum said in worst case the city could pull the money out of the escrow account the end of the 60 days and have the building demolished, but he doubted it would come to that.
"This group is good. They're calling me up saying, 'When can we set up this escrow account?'" They're ready to move," he said. "It's going to surprise people how fast that building is going to come down"
The demolition of Building 1 was a bone of contention between the city and the previous owner, Belfast Bridge LLC. The city ordered the building torn down in late 2009, and sued six months later when the building remained standing.
On Friday, the city settled that lawsuit, and a second that was to clarify the terms of the contract rezoning agreement between Belfast Bridge LLC and the city. The substance of both lawsuits was addressed in memorandum of agreement with the new owners.
In addition to requiring the demolition of Building 1, the memorandum transfers the contract rezoning agreement to the new owners, which Turner said would allow his group to begin work on the travel lift without going to the city for additional approval.
Otherwise, Turner said, the contract zone, created around a proposed condominium, retail and marina complex, mostly won’t apply to the shipyard.
An additional clause allows the city to keep $200,000 it redeemed from a letter of credit held by the previous owner for the construction of a fisherman’s dock. The dock, which was supposed to have been constructed by the previous owner, is to include 10 to 12 slips for vessels approximately 35-feet in length, plus dinghy space.
The agreement transfers the responsibility of building the dock to the city and requires the new owners to grant a right-of-way to the dock. In the interim, the new owners will be required to provide temporary float space for mooring owners displaced by previous redevelopment work in the harbor adjacent to the property.
Turner said he has spoken with some of the marine businesses in the area to address concerns about competition, but he believes those businesses, as well as downtown stores, will benefit from a rising tide.
“We’re not trying to displace anybody,” he said. “I think we can just add to their business as well as all the other businesses … Once you have a lot of people coming into town, you’re going to see everybody gaining from it.”
Among city officials, the mood following Friday's sale was optimistic.
Slocum called the project a "very, very positive development for the community," and expressed confidence in the new owners.
Belfast's Economic Development Director Thomas Kittredge called it the "perfect project for the site," because it draws on Belfast's history as a city with a working waterfront.
"When you think of coastal Maine, you think of boatyards and boatbuilding," Kittredge said. "There's really nothing more authentically Maine than that."
Kittredge said the shipyard should bring higher-quality, higher-paying jobs than what the city has seen in previous proposals for redeveloping the former cannery. As of Friday, he said, he had already received one email from someone hoping to work there.
"I'd rather have jobs than housing," he said. "I'd rather have jobs for working Maine people than condos for really rich people."