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Are boatyards obsolete in Seattle?

Jensen Motor Boat Co. is the latest of the waterfront boatyards in Seattle to announce its closure.

Jensen Motor Boat Co. is the latest of the waterfront boatyards in Seattle to announce its closure.

Jensen Motor Boat Co., which has built some iconic sail and powerboats through the decades, is closing down its waterfront location on Seattle’s Lake Union. It is one of the last boatyards in the city to succumb to the costs and environmental restrictions that the local marine industry is battling.

“Seattle has become horrendously expensive to live in,” Peter Proctor, general manager of Jensen Motor Boat Co., told Trade Only Today. “When I first started working on the lake, if you worked at one boat yard and got tired of it, you went down the street and started working for another one.”

DeWitt Jensen is currently running the company. The son of founder Anchor Jensen had been hoping to keep the company going until 2026, which would have been its 100-year anniversary. According to an article that appeared on the Seattle Times website last Friday, DeWitt Jensen gathered the company’s employees and told them that the Jensen Motor Boat Co. is going to be sold next month.

“DeWitt was heartbroken,” said Proctor. “After the recession, he poured his heart and soul and a ton of money into this place.”

The buyer is a group associated with Seattle developer Stephen C. Grey & Associates and neither side of the sale was discussing details of the sale. The deal is reportedly closing December 10 at a price of around $6 million, according to the Times article.

The closure of Jensen Motor Boat Co., follows a trend in the local marine industry. Dunato’s Boatyard, which was on nearby N. Northlake Way, closed in 2018 and Vic Franck’s Boat Company shut its doors in 2016.

“We need to get $50,000 a week just to break even and it’s a very expensive proposition to keep it going,” said Proctor, who cited local labor, industry taxes and environmental restrictions as the biggest obstacles to continuing to do business in Seattle.

For the company’s 20 or so employees, the choice is to try to go to another yard or go into business for themselves. Proctor is 67 years old and said he will stay at Jensen Motor Boat Co. until the sale is complete. Then he will continue working as a shipwright under the name Proctor Boat Company. He will use former Jensen employees as sub-contractors.

“I’m going to back to being a shipwright,” said Proctor. “I’m going to go back to being what I thought was really good at.”

Jensen Motor Boat Co. specialized in wooden boats and established Seattle as the hydroplane capital of the world when Anchor Jensen worked with designer Ted Jones on the famous series of Slo-Mo-Shun hydroplanes. Those boat set numerous speed records over the years.

Peter Schrappen, vice president and director of government affairs for the Northwest Marine Trades Association, said Jensen employees will be able to find work. “There’s demand for that kind of skillset,” he told Trade Only Today. “There are still boatyards in the Seattle area where those workers should find sustained employment.”

He said that as Amazon.com continues to expand its presence in downtown Seattle, the marine industry is getting squeezed out. There’s more interest in building restaurants and condominiums as property values have soared. “People who have these really awesome jobs like to eat at fancy restaurants with a waterfront view,” said Schrappen. “It’s a recipe for failure if you value the working waterfront.”

Schrappen said that statewide, the marine industry is a $4 billion business, calling it a “stealth industry” in the Seattle area.

Schrappen said that extensive environmental restrictions make it difficult for marine-industry-based businesses to continue or even start. Emerald Landing, a large-yacht facility, is the only new marina that has been built in the last eight years. “It’s virtually impossible to get permitted to get a marina built,” said Schrappen.

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