For years many people have advocated for Morro Bay to build a state-of-the-art boatyard to provide a local spot to maintain the boats in the harbor, and as a means to increase the economy of the working waterfront.
And a somewhat reluctant City Council recently gave the go-ahead for the next step in the process — to find a firm to conduct a financial feasibility study.
Some council members were supportive, Harbor Director Eric Endersby said, and others asked, “Why bother?”
In April 2015, Lisa Wise Consulting completed the “Morro Bay Boatyard and Haulout Facility Market Demand Analysis,” which found strong local support for a boatyard and a potential local customer base of some 269 vessels/owners with gross revenues estimated between $1.1 million to $2.3 million a year.
But that study didn’t look at the economics per se, rather, just if there was potential business for a boatyard. And clearly there is, as all the bigger fishing boats and pleasure craft must go elsewhere to haul their boats and do maintenance on them.
Some go north to Monterey or the Bay Area, and others south to Ventura, and some go down to Mexico to do the costly and industrially intensive work.
While there is one small boatyard in the harbor now, it can only pull one boat at a time and its hoist capacity is limited. Another boatyard in Port San Luis is also limited in what it can do. The travel hoist in PSL can haul and launch boats up to about 35-feet in length.
The financial study would take the project up to a “conceptual stand point,” Endersby said. He hopes the study will cost about $20,000-$25,000 but was authorized to spend as much as $40,000 by the council. He would pay for it out of Harbor Fund reserves.
There’s been more work done on the idea of a boatyard. In December 2015, RRM Design Group of SLO drew up two concept design options to see how a boatyard, maritime museum and public parking might fit into the Triangle Lot and immediate environs.
“Option A,” which was endorsed by the Harbor Advisory Board, concluded that a 10-space boatyard and associated facilities, about 3,200 square foot maritime museum and associated outdoor vessel display space, and still have 37 public parking spaces could all fit on that roughly 1-acre lot.
That RRM design called for building the haul out facility south of the South T-pier near the end of the Beach Street docks, then building a reinforced concrete travel path that goes across the Embarcadero and turns left up Front Street to the Triangle Lot, where the boatyard itself would go.
With perhaps a 100-120-ton hoist, the path it takes from the water’s edge to the boatyard must be highly reinforced concrete to carry all that weight.
That concept design included reconfiguring the street parking along Embarcadero north of Beach Street including some “back-in” parking spaces, a design that is not currently used in Morro Bay, which mostly had parallel parking, but it is used elsewhere and has some advantages over “head-in” diagonal parking especially with regards to not having to blindly back out of a parking space into traffic.
As for how much the project — including a haul out structure, travel hoist, and fenced and secure boatyard and more — might cost, Endersby said Harbor Advisory Board member Ron Reisner, a marine surveyor by profession, had estimated $3.5 to $4 million based on other facilities that he’s familiar with.
“It’s not a horrifying amount,” Endersby said, “but it’s not cheap. I’ve always felt that if we said, ‘Here’s the lot, the path and permits now go build it,’ that it would be hard to find someone willing to do it, because the infrastructure costs are so much.”
Instead he sees the City building the infrastructure and then bringing someone in to operate it. But where’s the Harbor Department going to get $4 million?
“Grants,” he said. “We got $1 million for the ice plant. There’re federal grant programs, USDA, Coastal Conservancy, and even transportation grants available.”
Federal transportation granting agencies consider boats to be modes of transportation, he said, and boatyards to be necessary facilities.
He planned to send out a request for proposals right away to do the feasibility study and get the ball rolling.
And they’re still looking at siting a boatyard in the Triangle Lot located at the north end of the Front Street parking lot. That 1-acre lot, which the City acquired for free from power plant owners Dynegy, Inc., (now called Vistra Energy) is quite popular, with several potential uses being eyed.
The Council previously gave the nod to carve out a piece of it for a boat and marine storage yard, large enough for 50 spaces, which could bring in up to $60,000 a year if all the spaces were rented out at $100 a month. The boatyard concept also includes storage space, as a means to get year-round revenues.
The Morro Bay Maritime Museum just opened a small exhibit building at the entrance to the Triangle Lot, and has three of its historic boats on display with a fourth boat, the Spindrift, yet to be restored and put on display, and the organization still hopes to some day build a large museum building in that same lot.
The Historical Society, which tried to move the old Finicky Fish boat building to the lot for a museum and visitor’s center and save it from demolition, would like to build a facility somewhere, possibly in the Triangle Lot.
The Salinan Tribe is also looking to establish a historical display at the southern edge of the Triangle Lot though the location for that likely wouldn’t interfere with other proposed uses.
And City Hall still wants the lot for public parking, which is what it’s mainly used for now.
By Neil Farrell