New businesses reshaping Belfast

Demolition began this week on one of the dilapidated former Stinson Seafood buildings off Front Street in Belfast.
Abigail Curtis | BDN
Demolition began this week on one of the dilapidated former Stinson Seafood buildings off Front Street in Belfast.
Posted Feb. 15, 2011, at 9:45 p.m.

BELFAST — On one end of town, a longtime eyesore is being knocked to the ground as a new shipyard starts to take shape on Front Street.

On the other end, a vacant manufacturing plant near the city airport is under contract to a California buyer that intends to use it to once again make goods.

“There are some exciting things,” Belfast development director Thomas Kittredge said Tuesday morning.

Later that day, Grant Geckeler of California-based Good Earthkeeping Organization was scheduled to speak with Belfast city councilors at a regular meeting about his company’s expected purchase of the former Harborside Graphics building in the Belfast Industrial Park by the airport.

The environmental cleanup firm first made headlines in Waldo County in December when it purchased the nearly 8,000-square-foot former Em Bee Cleaners building with the intention to use it as office space.

“We love the city,” Geckeler, the company’s chief financial officer, said Tuesday. “Everything’s been well-received by the city.”

He said his company has not yet formalized its plans for the nearly 25,000-square-foot space, but it likely will be used either to assemble sport aircraft or to manufacture compressed air accessories and remediation equipment — which is used in G.E.O.’s work.

The deal is scheduled to close at the end of March, Geckeler said.

“The size of the building is perfect,” he said.

The financial officer said he expects the development of the property to generate both “in-direct” jobs, through renovations, and direct jobs perhaps as soon as the summer.

Harborside Graphics was put up for sale at the end of 1999, with an asking price of $1.3 million. It had started as a small, screen-printed T-shirt company that expanded to the industrial park in 1990. At its peak, the business employed about 100 workers and was one of the city’s largest employers before credit card lender MBNA New England came to the county.

But by 1999, the company employed just 20 people in the Belfast plant.

After Harborside Graphics left the industrial park, the building was used for a few years by Prismax, a diamond-distribution business.

It has been vacant for a while, Kittredge said.

The city is trying to encourage the California company to build a hangar on the runway — “We could offer an attractive lease,” Kittredge said — but so far that isn’t on their to-do list, he said.

The company has not requested incentives from Belfast to relocate here, according to the development director.

Meanwhile, Tuesday marked the second day of demolition at Front Street, where workmen hired by DUBBA LLC were knocking down the infamous Building 1, where Stinson workers once packed sardines on the waterfront.

That crumbling concrete structure has been vacant since 2001 and was partially demolished in 2006.

“It’s an empty, hulking shell,” said Belfast city planner Wayne Marshall.

The former Stinson Seafood facility was sold in January to DUBBA LLC, which will do business as Front Street Shipyard. It is made up of a group of Maine maritime professionals who intend to redevelop the property into a major regional shipyard, including Taylor Allen of Rockport Marine, Steve White of Brooklin Boat Yard, Ken Priest of the Kenway Corp., and J.B. Turner of Kenway Corp.

Belfast has required that the company assume the agreement that had been made between the city and the property’s previous owner, development company Belfast Bridge LLC.

The city had filed two lawsuits against that company last June after developers failed in their plan to convert the property into a $12 million luxury condominium project.

“That [agreement] had certain advantages for them and certain advantages for us,” Marshall said. “That’s the starting point.”

Front Street Shipyard officials also planned to attend Tuesday’s City Council meeting to discuss amendments to the agreement.

Some of those amendments include putting in a temporary commercial fishermen’s dock, adding a marine travel lift that will be able to hoist ships weighing up to 150 tons and adding a marine wash basin for cleaning ships.

The city is keeping its requirement to have its coastal walkway go through the site of the new shipyard, the planner said.

“These guys run active boatyards,” Marshall said of the Front Street Shipyard principals. “They said the public’s on their sites all the time. They’re looking at the walkway as a way to direct where people are going to go.”

After years of delays and unmet promises about the Stinson parcel, Marshall said, it’s nice to see that the new owners are serious about their plans.

“It’s just so quick that it’s coming in,” he said. “They bought the property on Jan. 14. They had a [Department of Environmental Protection] permit in hand to do marine work the first of February. … The applicants have been great folks to work with. They know Maine. They know the Maine waterfront. They’re moving at breakneck speed to get this operational by June.”

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