BELFAST, Maine — Front Street Shipyard is preparing for yet another expansion along the Belfast waterfront as it vies for a major contract to build carbon-fiber ferries for New York City.
Front Street shipyard wants to construct Building 6, a 21,700-square-foot structure next to Building 5, which is currently the facility’s largest. Building 6 would resemble its neighbor, but stand about 11 feet taller, allowing the shipyard to put larger vessels under cover.
In 2013, the shipyard purchased a new 485-ton lift to haul large boats out of the water. That lift is too large to fit in Building 5, but could fit into Building 6.
The shipyard might need the extra space, especially if the major ferry construction contract it is hoping to win comes through.
New York City, as part of a push to improve its ferry services and get some traffic off the busy city streets, is looking to add 18 brand new ferries to its fleet and adding new routes along the city’s waterways. The city selected Hornblower Inc. to lead that effort, and Front Street Shipyard hopes to get involved by building a pair of 84-foot carbon-fiber ferries.
“That contract would be a big deal for us,” JB Turner, the shipyard’s president, said during a recent interview.
If Front Street is selected to build the pair of ferries, Turner said he likely would have to hire between 30 and 40 new employees, adding to his current 100-worker roster. The shipyard opened in 2011 and has expanded several times since, investing about $14 million into the waterfront facility so far, according to Turner.
The shipyard had hoped to break ground on the $4 million structure earlier this summer and have it completed by early 2017. The start date has since been pushed back, likely to next April, according to shipyard officials.
“We’re still getting the last financing pieces in place,” Turner said. “We hope to have that lined up by the end of the year.”
In May, the city and shipyard ironed out a deal in which the shipyard would purchase a city-owned parking lot next to Building 5 for $600,000, where Front Street would build its new expansion. That sale will go through after Front Street secures its financing and building permits. The city and shipyard started discussing this project back in the spring of 2013.
City Planner Wayne Marshall said Wednesday that the parking lot is primarily used by shipyard employees, who would park their vehicles elsewhere around the shipyard. The city originally built that lot to serve a former railroad operation at the site. Front Street Shipyard also leases some nearby parking areas from the McCrum plant.
While the construction project has been pushed back, work going on near the shipyard is helping the shipyard prepare for its growth. The city and its water district are rebuilding Front Street, replacing aging sewer and water lines and strengthening the road and area around it to support 200-ton loads. The street also is being widened to make it easier for trucks carrying large loads to negotiate the turns into the shipyard. The project also will bring more public parking spaces to Front Street, Marshall said.
In all, the roadwork project is expected to cost nearly $4 million, with about half covered by a U.S. Economic Development Administration grant and the remainder by the city and water district, according to Marshall. He said the shipyard has strong support from city leadership.
“It goes beyond the number of jobs they’ve created,” Marshall said Tuesday, adding that the city has longed for a maritime business with growth potential to take root on Front Street. “The shipyard has had a transformative impact on the waterfront.”
Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.