Front Street Shipyard’s proposed expansion pleases some, worries others

The Front Street Shipyard continues to expand on the Belfast waterfront.
The Front Street Shipyard continues to expand on the Belfast waterfront. Buy Photo
Posted Nov. 28, 2012, at 6:32 p.m.

BELFAST, Maine — The Front Street Shipyard would like to expand again on the Belfast waterfront — and while some city officials are all in favor of the economic stimulus this would provide, others have major concerns about the magnitude of the expansion.

JB Turner, president of the shipyard, said Wednesday that the company would like to construct another large building and also install a new travel lift that would be able to haul twice as much tonnage out of the water. The lift the company wants to put in would have a 330-ton capacity to haul superyachts and would be one of the largest in New England.

But the shipyard, which over the last two years has largely transformed Front Street and the Belfast waterfront, needs more of the city’s land to make the expansion happen, Turner said. For possible sites, he is looking at the municipal parking lot next to the shipyard, the railroad building most recently used by the Belfast Maskers and Thompson’s Wharf.

“We’re in the preliminary talk stages with the city to see how they would react to our hopes and dreams,” he said. “The parking lot seems to be the first focus for a new building.”

With the construction of an additional boat shop, Turner said the company might be able to create at least 40 jobs. More than 80 people already are employed at the year-round company.

“We’ve had several boats already that we’ve been unable to lift at all,” Turner said. “We don’t necessarily like saying no, when there’s work available.”

According to a press release issued Wednesday by the shipyard, the company is proposing to lease or purchase city property to build the shop. Officials will make a public presentation of their proposal at the regular Belfast City Council meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 4, at Belfast City Hall.

It will be good to start that public conversation, said City Councilor Mike Hurley, who added that he has a lot of concerns about the company’s proposal.

“I’m very concerned about the city of Belfast’s property not being used up entirely for the Front Street Shipyard,” he said, cautioning against creating a business monoculture at the waterfront. “A few years ago, we had Stinson’s [sardine cannery], the railroad, the Maskers, the Belfast Boathouse, Thompson’s Wharf. Six items. They would like them all to be Front Street Shipyard.”

Hurley said that having one business own so much property there is “unacceptable.”

“I work not just for the people who elect us. I’m trying to think of 20 years from now. What are we going to be? What do we want this to do?” he asked. “I’m interested in continuing a very serious conversation. We want to help the Front Street Shipyard as much as we can. We also want to protect the long-term interests of the people of Belfast.”

But Mayor Walter Ash has a very different take on the company’s proposal.

“I think it’s great,” he said. “It’s all about jobs, and I’m all about jobs. They’re going to put another 40 people to work, and it’s not only those jobs — it’s going to create jobs up and down Main Street, when you can bring people who can afford those types of boats, they have money to spend. I think it’s terrific. I’m tickled to death.”

Ash said that he is eager to hear input from the whole community about the shipyard’s proposal. In his opinion, the municipal lot adjacent to the shipyard really only is used by the company’s own employees and selling that space for a boat shop could work well.

“All I see that is [is] making a better use of something we have in that area,” he said.

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