Stinson Seafood closed its plant in Belfast in 2001 and the waterfront property has been dormant ever since. Several previous plans for redeveloping the former sardine canning factory property fell through. The most recent one began in 2005, when Belfast Bridge, LLC bought the property with plans to build Wakeag Landing — a luxury 17-unit waterfront condominium and marina development on Belfast Harbor. Some construction, which can be seen above, began on the project but ceased in 2006, and Belfast Bridge, LLC put the property on the market. Last year, the city sued Belfast Bridge, LLC, in an attempt to force it to deal with the dangerous condition of the property.
Stinson Seafood closed its plant in Belfast in 2001 and the waterfront property has been dormant ever since. Several previous plans for redeveloping the former sardine canning factory property fell through. The most recent one began in 2005, when Belfast Bridge, LLC bought the property with plans to build Wakeag Landing — a luxury 17-unit waterfront condominium and marina development on Belfast Harbor. Some construction, which can be seen above, began on the project but ceased in 2006, and Belfast Bridge, LLC put the property on the market. Last year, the city sued Belfast Bridge, LLC, in an attempt to force it to deal with the dangerous condition of the property.
Even over the telephone you could hear the smile in the voice of Tom Kittredge, Belfast's economic development director, when he talked about the announcement that Front Street Shipyard, Inc. (FSS) - a new custom boatbuilding, service yard, and specialty composites manufacturing facility - will make its home on the former Stinson canning factory site on Belfast's waterfront.

The site has laid dormant since Stinson Seafood closed in 2001 and several past attempts to redevelop the site collapsed, but, says Kittredge, the new partners "have tremendous industry experience."

Managing partner J.B. Turner, of Warren, is joined by Taylor Allen, owner of Rockport Marine, Inc. (RMI); Steve White, owner of Brooklin Boat Yard (BBY); and Kenneth Priest, president of Kenway Corporation in Augusta, in the new endeavor.

Turner has 24 years of experience as a manager of yacht service and composite boatbuilding projects for major yards on the East Coast. Prior to his involvement at Front Street, Turner was president of Lyman-Morse Boatbuilding Company. In 2010, he joined Kenway Corporation as a project engineer.

Turner says the new yard melds the strengths of all the partners. "We see this new facility as an immediate global competitor in all aspects of boatbuilding, repair and restoration, giving the yachting community another serious option for all their needs. Additionally, it will have tremendous depth in all facets of composites fabrication, from industrial to recreational applications."

According to Turner, the Front Street Shipyard partners first began focusing on acquisition of the Stinson site last April and will open its doors this summer. The big attraction at the site, he says, was the deep-water access: "There's 16 feet of water at the docks at low tide." The new shipyard will offer dockage for boats up to 180 feet and hauling capacity for vessels up to 165 tons. Asked if the market for such high-end yachts was viable, given the recent economic upheavals, Turner said that this year's boat show in Antigua featured more of the larger-size yachts than ever, "over 150 feet and up to 300 feet," and the show was mobbed with visitors and buyers. "The big boat market is still strong," Turner said, "especially for retrofitting and repair."

In addition to deep-water access, the site has space for marina facilities, and about four acres of land for storage and work bays. Turner expects amenities for touring yachts will eventually include a chandlery, laundry and showers - "all that good stuff." Front Street will employ painters, varnishers, carpenters, composites techs, riggers, machinists, fabricators and mechanics. The partners believe that the combination of their individual strengths - the woodworking and design expertise of Brooklin Boat Yard and Rockport Marine, Inc., Turner's background of leadership in the marine industry, and the diverse industrial composite experience of Kenway Corporation -makes this a unique business, with a deep bench of experience.

Kenway Corporation already specializes in custom composite manufacturing and field service, offering complete composites engineering and design capabilities as well as fabrication for industries ranging from marine to coal-fired power, to infrastructure, to pulp and paper, to transportation, to renewable energy. At the Belfast site, Turner says, they'll eventually be able to build, assemble and launch components for offshore wind and underwater tidal energy projects, as well as build the boats that service the new and growing industry.

Asked why they chose to start a new yard with Turner and Priest rather than seek to expand on their own, Taylor Allen of Rockport Marine says, "Steve, J.B. and I have known each other for many years and have enjoyed collaborating on and competing for various boat-related projects. RMI, BBY, and FSS each will continue to have different strengths, but there may be times when we will compete for the same projects. We see that as all to the good; in fact, it's good for Maine boatbuilding and the industry as a whole. What we can put together in Belfast is far greater than any of us could do alone. We come at it with very similar philosophies, plus we have a lot of fun doing it."

Founded in 1962, Rockport Marine, Inc. specializes in new construction, restoration and design work. RMI has built a wide variety of boats, from traditional plank-on-frame to modern wood-composite vessels. This winter, the yard is completely restoring Adventuress, an 83-foot Fife schooner, and Trade Wind, a 62-foot Alden motorsailer. Recent projects include the refit of the famous Sparkman and Stephens design, Bolero, construction of the cold-molded schooner Spirit of Bermuda, and the historic replicas Adventure and Godspeed.

White echoes Allen: "By combining our efforts, we hope to create a truly world-class yacht yard. Taylor and I both remain committed to keeping our own yards in Brooklin and Rockport strong, and operating independently. By the same token, we've both been looking for a place that would allow us to compete for some of the bigger boats. Belfast is centrally located, just half an hour from either Brooklin or Rockport, and it's got deep-water access, so it looked pretty interesting. When J.B. Turner became available to act as the general manager, that gave us the green light for Front Street Shipyard, and when Ken Priest threw his oar in, we all knew we were on to something good."

Priest emphasizes the role that Front Street would play in alternative-energy projects such as offshore wind, tidal and wave. The deep-water access allows for the shipment of large industrial composite products to customers around the world, according to Priest, and Front Street will also offer service, maintenance and repair to offshore equipment. Says Priest, "The Belfast community offers the regional infrastructure and available labor force which are key to building global composite products: wind-turbine blades, towers, spars and platforms."

And Turner says, "Belfast is the ideal location to create Front Street Shipyard. It has a broad range of businesses, hotels, restaurants and stores, not to mention the cluster of local suppliers to the shipyard." Dining, leisure activities, shopping and the arts will be within walking distance of Front Street Shipyard, notes Turner, and Belfast is within driving distance of Portland and Bangor airports, plus it has a local airport with a 4,000-foot runway that can support private aircraft.

Economic Development Director Thomas Kittredge and Belfast mayor Walter Ash are overjoyed at the possibilities the new shipyard presents for the redevelopment of the downtown and waterfront area.

Mayor Ash says, "I am very thankful for the new investment that will be taking place down at the site, and the creation of quality jobs for this community. I remember when Stinson Seafood had been in operation, and it is a wonderful feeling to see this area being turned back into a working waterfront again."

Kittredge said that while he hadn't yet heard any reactions to the news from the property owners near the Stinson property, he thinks that activity at the abandoned site will be welcomed, because "no activity was leading to graffiti and homeless issues." Referring to the change of use from potential condominiums to shipyard, Kittredge said that he'd rather see "good-paying shipyard jobs for working people than condos." He said that, while Belfast has already filed a letter of intent of the city's application for funding through the federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program for streetscape improvements along the waterfront and will also apply for grants from the Communites for Maine's Future Fund, he expects the Front Street Shipyard will stimulate private investment and development.

"The City is tremendously excited to be working with a group of this caliber, with the industry experience and resources that they bring to the table," says Kittredge. "Besides the boatbuilding and servicing activity, we are energized about the added potential for this site to play a role in the manufacturing and shipping of composite items such as windmill components."