After more than 20 years, Westbay Marina is closing its boatyard operation at the end of the year but will continue to operate the rest of the marina. It is blaming competition from the Port of Olympia as the primary reason for the demise of its boatyard.
Neil Falkenburg, manager of Westbay Marine Services LLC, says he complained to commissioners several years ago when the idea of Swantown Boatworks was first introduced. He told the commissioners that having publicly sponsored competition would hurt his business.
Four people are losing their jobs, says Falkenburg, and that doesn’t include positions he hoped to create before the Port opened Swantown Boatworks. Falkenburg says his boatyard suffered a 40 percent decline in business since the Port opened its boatyard in March.
Port executive director Nick Handy says he’s sympathetic but doesn’t believe the Port is responsible for Westbay’s demise.
“We’re sorry they’re going out of business,” he says. “I don’t pretend to know the reasons they’re going out of business. It’s been known for a long time they’ve not been able to maintain environmental certification with the state Department of Ecology. They’ve been fined several times. It is very expensive. Swantown Boatworks is an environmental, state-of-the-art facility, but it’s expensive to build a facility that meets the requirements.”
That’s one of the reasons the Port’s rates are higher than Westbay’s, he says.
Swantown Boatworks cost Thurston County property taxpayers $2.6 million, including construction and equipment costs.
Handy contends that Swantown was designed to serve a different market than the one Westbay appealed to. He points out that Swantown’s 77-ton haulout facility is capable of handling larger vessels than Westbay’s 35-ton lift. A third of the Port’s haulout business comes from out-of-county, he adds.
“Our goal has always been to make this a larger market down here,” says Handy.
A secondary cause of the Westbay’s failure was the high cost of the improvements required by the DOE, Falkenburg concedes. The Department of Ecology mandated that he make up to $50,000 worth of environmental-regulation improvements as part of a pressure-washer catchment project he had proposed.
Though Westbay’s boatyard operation represents 40 percent of the marina’s overall business, Falkenburg is hoping to turn the operation into more space for parking and other improvements to the marina.
“This is going to allow me to do improvements to the property that have always been needed,” he says. “That’s the silver lining—Westbay Marina will benefit a lot. We can serve our restaurant (Tugboat Annie’s) better with more parking and really dress the place up.”
By Kamilla McClelland, Business Examiner staff