PORT TOWNSEND — Arren Day surveyed the gravel behind the Port Townsend Shipwrights Co-op and pointed to several 75-ton boats awaiting construction or repair.
The space, adjacent to the current building at 919 Haines Place, soon will have 300-ton vessels in spots previously held by the Port of Port Townsend.
Port commissioners signed a deal six months in the making last week that swapped the four additional boat spaces for land the port has previously leased to the co-op.
Also in the deal were four buildings the co-op had built and maintained since 1981, said Day, the president of the organization.
Those buildings were turned over to the port, which plans to rent them out as “small business incubators,” Executive Director Jim Pivarnik said.
Pivarnik told port commissioners Dec. 11 they had an appraisal completed for about $655,000. The co-op will continue to pay for its current space at 6 cents per square foot through 2050, he said.
“It’s very close to a wash,” Pivarnik told commissioners last month. “If we keep the buildings rented, it will generate about the same amount of money than the shipyard rates.”
While the co-op received less land in return, co-op partner Chris Brignoli said it puts the shipwrights into a more efficient space with room to expand, not only with the size of each vessel but with the number employees who can turn around each project.
“Consolidating our property into one space is financially more advantageous for our business growth,” he said.
And the port will have less work to do with the four buildings, which are ready to turn over to new tenants.
“This is a constructive and productive thing we’re doing for both,” Port Commissioner Pete Hanke said Thursday before the motion was unanimously approved. “The co-op being the employer you are really helps our whole mandate of marine trades. You’re really exemplary in that department.
“It’s a win-win for everyone to move forward.”
The land and buildings that have been returned to the port are at 3109 Jefferson St., the co-op’s former location.
Day said they were limited there to the 75-ton boats, and they wanted more space for larger commercial vessels.
“In order for this to work, we have to expand our business,” Brignoli said.
That also allows the co-op to focus its efforts on the boats in the shop rather than managing lease paperwork, Day said.
“We’re not really in the business of being landlords,” he said.
The 12 co-op partners have between 45 and 50 employees, about 10 percent of whom work seasonally, Brignoli said.
Both men approved of the land swap, saying it’s part of the port’s mission statement to provide opportunities for economic development within Jefferson County.
Now they get more control around their yard, including environmental standards, the best practices for which are easier to maintain when most of the work is done indoors, Brignoli said.
“It’s all contained,” he said. “You sweep it up and bag it. None of it is out there blowing away in the wind.”
As Day descended from a set of stairs from the co-op’s office to several different rooms, he described areas where wood products are milled, and machinists and electricians work their trade.
The Western Flyer, made famous by John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts in the book “Sea of Cortez: A Leisurely Journal of Travel and Research,” fills up one of the rooms. Jordan Bard and Greg Friedrichs worked Monday on tightening several boards during the ongoing restoration project.
Day then stood next to the Kariel of Sitka, Alaska, a 70-foot fishing vessel in the shop for reconfiguration.
He said sperm whales in Alaska have been taking bites out of fish as they are pulled up on 8,000 hooks across 8 miles of line.
Now they are figuring out how to put 150 pots — at 6 feet in diameter each — on deck to catch black cod, Day said.
It’s just the second conversion they’ve worked on at the co-op, but it’s an example of innovation within the industry, he said.
“It’s emerging faster, but it’s pretty new so not a lot of people have done it yet,” Day said.
Jefferson County Managing Editor Brian McLean can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 6, or at [email protected].