BELFAST — As with Maine weather, one doesn't need to wait long to witness a major change at Front Street Shipyard in Belfast, as workers and heavy machinery rapidly transform the former Stinson Seafood property into a boat servicing facility, on a grand scale.
Start with the recent demolition of a wood-frame building adjacent to the former cannery. The building was taken down in less than two days, and no sooner was the debris removed, then the wreckers set their sights on an unassuming shed near Front Street, once a roundhouse for the Belfast & Moosehead Lake Railroad.
Until recently, the railroad tracks coming in from Western Waldo County ended haphazardly at the eroded shoreline near Thompson's Wharf. Today in that vicinity, a new pair of massive piers, built to support a 165-ton-capacity mobile boat lift, jut out into the harbor.
These piers are encircled by dozens of floats, also constructed by the shipyard, that are arranged to form roughly 20 boat slips. According to JB Turner, general manager of Front Street Shipyard, most of these have been rented, save a few that were kept in reserve for summer transients.
"We don't want to have to say 'No, go back to Camden,'" he said.
While most of the money at the shipyard is still going out, Turner said the business is getting some income from the boat slips and has begun accepting repair and retrofit jobs on small boats.
These will increasingly be done in the cluster of buildings that runs along Front Street, described in site plans as Buildings 3, 4A and 4.
Building 3, at the north end, recently got a new roof, insulation and the first application of a dark green, corrugated metal siding that will be used throughout the complex.
Building 4, a large, fairly new warehouse at the opposite end is leased to French & Webb Custom Boat Builders through the end of the month. Starting in July, Turner said, the shipyard will to use that space for working on smaller boats.
Building 4A, a connecting structure between Buildings 3 and 4, is slated to be demolished and rebuilt to the slightly higher elevation of Building 4, which stands 22 feet tall.
To the south, across a large clearing, preparatory site work is underway for the largest building in the shipyard development.
Building 5, as it is known, will occupy a piece of city land adjacent to the Front Street Parking municipal parking lot. The 22,000-square-foot, 55-foot-high warehouse will have a pair of doors tall enough to allow the travel lift to drive into the building and deposit boats of up to 120 feet in length inside for repairs.
Turner said the plan is to move into the as-yet-unbuilt Building 5 in November.
According to City Manager Joe Slocum, the terms under which the shipyard will use the roughly 1.5 acres of city land have yet to be finalized. On June 28, he said negotiations were leaning toward a lease with an option to buy.
"Neither side has said, 'Sure, whatever you want,'" Slocum said. "I can tell you that."
The combination of the Buildings 3, 4A and 4 complex and the free-standing Building 5 would allow the shipyard to service as wide a range of vessels as current plans suggest it ever will. Those improvements were included in a contract rezoning agreement approved by the City Council on June 21.
Starting next spring, Turner said, the plan is to rebuild on the site of Building 2 and the former the sardine cannery (Building 1), which was demolished in February.
In the meantime a number of new pilings for the city's Harbor Walk pedestrian and bicycle promenade have been installed around the perimeter once defined by the two buildings.
The Harbor Walk, which will eventually stretch from Steamboat Landing to the footbridge and extend to Route 1 on Belfast's East Side, was originally slated to follow the railroad tracks through the center of the shipyard but was rerouted to go along the water side of the northernmost buildings on the property.
The revision promises better views from the promenade while reconnecting, for practical purposes, the previously bisected portion of the shipyard property.
Major work on several stormwater drains is set to begin after city officials discovered wooden box culverts running under the former cannery property. In deference to the expedited timetable of the shipyard redevelopment, the City Council agreed to forego the city's standard bid process, hiring one of Front Street Shipyard's contractors to replace the culverts, the longest of which runs from the north end of the municipal parking lot on Front Street, diagonally under Building 4, to the water.
Congressman Michael Michaud visited the site Tuesday, June 28 and was welcomed by a half-dozen city officials and two of the shipyard's principals, Turner and Taylor Allen of Rockport Marine.
As the group chatted at the foot of the new piers, workers from Marine Travel Lift of Sturgeon Bay, Wis. assembled the massive 165-ton-capacity boat-moving machine — a mid-sized model, according to one of the men. A day before it had been in a dozen pieces.
Asked how much the lift itself would weigh, Turner paused and appeared to be counting these pieces in his mind. Accordingly, he counted aloud in increments of 10,000 pounds.
The hoist, now assembled into an imposing outline of a cube, towered 40 feet above the heads of the visitors: the congressman, a half-dozen city officials, shipyard representatives and several newspaper and television reporters.
Amid the scene — electricians and machine operators in hardhats and safety vests were working nearby — a boater from one of the adjacent slips appeared at the top of the gangway.
Wearing flip-flops and clutching a phone and a bundle of clothing, she walked through a dirt recession recently cleared for a marine wash basin, stepped over a moonscape of six-inch blasted ledge substrate and disappeared into a nearby warehouse, emerging in a parking lot on the far side near a building that is scheduled to be demolished within the month.
Other passersby stood at the edge of the property, hoping to get a look at the construction under way, while further to the south, an excavator scooped the remains of the railroad roundhouse into a large Dumpster bound for Rockland.
Asked if the shipyard development is running on schedule, Turner gave an understated, "Yeah."
"I'd like everything done," he said. "But you can't have everything."
Front Street Shipyard is hosting an open house for members of the public, Saturday, July 2, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. near the travel lift off of Front Street in Belfast.