Expansion activity at the Front Street Shipyard heralds good economic news for Belfast, where a 0.75-mile walkway will soon connect the Armistice Bridge with the Belfast Boathouse at the foot of Commercial Street.
“The Front Street Shipyard has been a very important economic development project. It’s certainly been the most important project [in Belfast] since MBNA came and the arrival of Athenahealth,” said Thomas Kittredge, the Belfast economic development director.
In mid-January 2011, several investors purchased a 3.9-acre site from Belfast Bridge LLC, a development company that had attempted to build a $12 million luxury condominium project on the land sandwiched between Front Street and Belfast Harbor. The lot was once home to Stinson Seafood.
Planning to construct Front Street Shipyard on the land were Taylor Allen of Rockport Marine; Ken Priest, the Augusta-based Kenway Corp. president and CEO; J.B. Turner of the Kenway Corp.; and Steve White, Brooklin Boat Yard president. The four men envisioned the new shipyard as serving commercial and recreational boats.
Demolition began immediately on the abandoned seafood-processing plant. The shipyard has since ex-panded into several buildings, including the new Building 5, which houses a marine travel lift that can move boats weighing up to 165 tons. That building stands on land, 1.5 acres in all, that Front Street Shipyard has leased from the city.
“In a show of good faith they went ahead and built the building,” Kittredge said. “They are negotiating a lease to buy the property. The city does not own the building; it was built by the shipyard.”
Open about a year, Front Street Shipyard recently hired its 75th employee. “They’re ahead of their own schedule in terms of their employment numbers,” Kittredge said. “I think they’ve surpassed their own ex-pectations in the first year.”
City officials worked closely with the shipyard’s investors “to make this a success,” he said. “There had been different plans for the property. Stinson Seafood failed. The condos failed. The site was an eyesore.
“Nothing was a working waterfront type of proposal as this has been,” Kittredge said. He credited Belfast City Manager Joseph Slocum and Belfast City Planner Wayne Marshall for “their hard work” in “making this happen.”
Belfast Harbor Walk
“There has been a very close relationship between the city and the shipyard,” Kittredge said, and the new Belfast Harbor Walk slated for construction later this year will physically strengthen those ties, he indicated.
“We will be building all of the Harbor Walk, the West Side portion, that is, starting in mid-August,” Kit-tredge said. The walkway will ultimately cross the Armistice Bridge to East Belfast.
Project backers originally envisioned Harbor Walk as a 10-12-foot-wide paved path that would follow the route taken by the Belfast & Moosehead Lake Railroad. The tracks have been removed, according to Aurele Gorneau, the Maine Department of Transportation project manager assigned to overseeing
According to Kittredge, the walkway will actually shift to “a harbor view” along the cluster of Front Street Shipyard buildings nearest the Armistice Bridge. “It will actually use their deck … for around 600 feet or so, and people will have a great view of the harbor,” he said.
A vibrant downtown
According to Kittredge, a long lost vibrancy has appeared in downtown Belfast, where “there are a lot less vacancies than there were two years ago.
“You look at our downtown. Now there is no empty storefront on Main Street in the downtown, and it is my understanding that much of the second floors are taken up as well,” he said.
“We had a lot of people considering starting a business, and I think they queued in on other people starting their businesses downtown,” Kittredge said. “We have a very nice, authentic downtown that is at-tracting a lot of business.”
New restaurants have opened downtown, and Stephens Waring Yacht Design relocated to 92 Main St., Belfast not long ago. Joel White of Brooklin Boat Yard founded the company in 1960; owned today by Rob-ert W. Stephens and Paul W. Waring, the company is a self-described “distinctive yacht design firm work-ing at the cutting edge of tradition.”
Business has been so successful that Stephens Waring Yacht Design opened a Seattle office earlier this year.
With the downtown storefronts occupied, city officials “think the next construction may be on one of the vacant lots downtown,” Kittredge said. “There isn’t much room downtown now.
“We’re having a lot of people coming into my office and asking about starting a business,” he said.
On Route 1 near the Little River, Coastal Farm and Foods Processing has leased the former Moss Tent building. The company will process agricultural products grown in Maine, according to Kittredge.
“That is an interesting project to key into the agricultural sector of our economy here in Waldo County,” he said. “They will ‘tunnel freeze’ blueberries and other foods. It’s really going to help the local [food] growers.”
Belfast officials have proposed a $750,000 downtown revitalization project “to make some streetscape and infrastructure improvements in an area that we have designated in two places along the waterfront,” Kittredge said. The city is seeking a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant to help fund the proj-ect.
Among the improvements proposed for the project are:
• Constructing some 40 parking spaces on Cross, Front, Miller, and Spring streets;
• Building new sidewalks on those four streets, with the Harbor Walk included in this section;
• Improving the stormwater system along Cross, Miller, and Spring streets;
• Installing new signs and an informational kiosk in the affected area.