Marina: New spot for megayachts, with all the frills

Marina: New spot for megayachts, with all the frills

From former P-I reporter Deborah Bach and ex-Times reporter Marty McOmber’s Seattle maritime site, Three Sheets Northwest:

Seattle has long been home to first-rate maritime service companies and marinas that can accommodate superyachts.

But as Brooke Stabbert saw it, the city lacked a facility that combined the comfort of a marina with a full range of marine services on one site. So Stabbert and his father, Don Stabbert, developed and opened Salmon Bay Marine Center, a superyacht marina and service center located west of the Ballard Bridge on Seattle’s ship canal.

The $30-million facility, which became fully operational in June, features eight new buildings with 74,500 square feet of office and shop space, 18 dock slips for vessels from 100 to 200 feet, caretaker apartments atop each building and marine services ranging from electrical work to hydraulics, interior design to vessel management.

Brooke Stabbert believes the center’s combination of services and facilities makes it unique.

“I don’t think there’s anything else like this on the west coast,” he said. “I think the closest place you’ll find something like this is in Florida. We’ve been told we have the finest facility on the west coast, anywhere from Panama to Alaska.”

The assertion is backed up by numbers: despite the economic downturn, the facility is about 90 percent leased and the marina is currently filled with large vessels undergoing work, including an oceanographic research vessel equipped with submarines that’s having a $30-million refit and a 120-foot yacht whose engines and generators are being rebuilt in preparation for a season of chartering.

“We have a backlog. I’ve got boats waiting to come in,” Stabbert said. “I’m just trying to figure out how to get them all in here.”

Not just a marina

The center is equipped for almost any type of boat repair and refit, Stabbert said. Its heavily powered docks eliminate the need for generators, he said, and all slips have sewage connections and pumpout facilities. The facility’s electric work trucks can be driven onto the docks for loading and unloading equipment, and several points on the site can accommodate large cranes. Unlike most marinas, where slips for large vessels are typically located at the end of long docks, Salmon Bay Marine Center’s slips are easily accessible.

Aside from haulouts and full repainting, Stabbert said, virtually all boat work can be done on the site. If one of the center’s companies can’t do the work, he said, it can likely be done at one of the many marine service companies located within a one-mile radius. Yacht owners, he said, like the facility’s convenience, its freshwater location and the ability to have work done without, well, looky-loos.

“In the more traditional facilities, to put it bluntly, every small boat guy wants to come out and see — ‘Whose boat is this? What’s going on?’” Stabbert said.

“(Large yacht owners) like to be able to use their boats and not be bothered. So we provide a certain amount of exclusivity, where they know they can pull in here and they’re going to be dealing with other big yacht crews, big yacht captains and other big yacht owners.”

Vincent Maurice is the captain of Lochiel, a 105-foot sailboat that’s having some maintenance work done before heading to Mexico for the winter. Maurice planned to have the boat work done in San Diego but while in Hawaii met Don Stabbert, who told him about the new facility and convinced him to come to Seattle. Maurice is glad he did.

“It’s worked out really well,” he said. “It’s easy to get downtown and there’s a variety of engineering and other trades services within this precinct. We don’t have to bring anybody in from outside the area.

“I’d definitely come back here,” Maurice said. “There’s everything here that you need to service a big vessel.”

Paul Zimmer is similarly pleased with the facility. An owner of S3 Maritime, which provides systems and support services for large yachts, Zimmer set up shop in Salmon Bay Marine Center and said its mix of companies catering to superyachts has resulted in helpful cross-referrals.

“Working together with these other companies has worked out really well,” he said. “We can offer more of a full-service, one-stop shop for larger boats that require several different types of work. It definitely opens up some opportunity for everybody.”

For owners and crews, Zimmer said, the facility offers both convenience and comfort. “It’s not a dirty shipyard. That’s really appealing to a lot of the crews and the owners, that it’s a nice, clean environment and you can still get the work done.”

A maritime family

Stabbert is a household name within the Pacific Northwest maritime industry. Brooke’s grandfather, Fred Stabbert, founded Stabbert Maritime in 1949, using a former World War II Army vessel for medical missions and freight operations to remote ports on the coast of British Columbia and Alaska.

Fred’s son Don founded WestWater Develoment, whose projects have included buying and renovating the Kirkland Yacht Club Marina on Lake Washington. Don’s brother Dan, Brooke’s uncle, grew their father’s business into what is now Stabbert Maritime Yacht & Ship, a multifaceted operation located on the north side of the ship canal, almost directly across from Salmon Bay Marine Center.

Brooke Stabbert worked as a merchant marine after college before getting an MBA and returning to the Northwest to work with his father. When Marco Seattle closed its shipyard in 2005 and put the yard’s six-acre parcel of land up for sale, the Stabberts saw a golden opportunity.

They bought the property in 2006, along with an adjacent 2.5 acres west of the site that has yet to be redeveloped, and set about building out their vision. They installed new moorage, constructed new buildings and renovated an existing structure that now serves as the Seattle headquarters for Westport Yachts. The facility opened in phases, starting in spring 2008, with the newest buildings finished in June 2009.

Stabbert said though the facility has been well-received by customers, it’s also been met with misconceptions. People frequently assume it’s a marina for megayachts, Stabbert said, but boats can only be moored at the center if they’re having work done, are commercial charter boats en route elsewhere or are being brokered for sale. Some, he said, resent what they see as the center taking moorage away from commercial boats.

“I get pushback from people when they don’t understand what we’re doing here. They’re concerned about preserving the traditional, commercial maritime industry and the jobs it involves, and we are in absolute agreement on that.”

Luxury yachts, Stabbert points out, provide employment for marine tradespeople who have seen work dry up as the commerical fishing fleet has been reduced. In its first year of operation, he said, Salmon Bay Marine Center generated more than $3.5 million worth of work for on-site and surrounding marine service companies.

Stabbert points to industry statistics showing that owners of megayachts spent an average of 15 percent annually of their boats’ value on refitting, repairs, maintenance, salaries, provisioning and other associated costs. While in port, they shop, eat out and otherwise support local businesses, providing economic benefits beyond the maritime industry.

Much of the pushback, Stabbert believes, is rooted in envy. “I think the layman’s first reaction when they see a big yacht like this is often jealousy — ‘It’s just some rich guy’s toy,’” he said. “They don’t recognize how much money these things generate. These boats throw off money. My god, these guys do $10,0000 Costco runs.”

Those economic benefits have trickled down to Salmon Bay Marine Center’s owners, of course. Stabbert says though the recession has sidetracked revenue targets, the facility is doing relatively well.

“When you compare us to virtually any other new retail development in Seattle, we’re doing fantastic,” he said. “While we’re not doing as well as I’d like, I can’t complain too much.”

By Deborah Bach for Three Sheets Northwest


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