By James Casey, April 28, 2015, Peninsula Daily News
Platypus Marine Inc.’s owner said he probably won’t consider — even sight unseen — a lease proposal that the Port of Port Angeles tendered to him Tuesday.
Jason Linnabary would rather buy the site at Marine Drive and Cedar streets where he hopes to double his boat-building and repair facility and to double its employment to 150 jobs paying an average $48,500 a year.
“I can’t think of any lease that would lead me to invest that amount,” he told Peninsula Daily News of his proposal to spend $5 million on the site.
He spoke after attending a Port Angeles Business Association breakfast meeting Tuesday when port Commissioner John Calhoun, speaking to a packed crowd, expressed his reluctance to sell the 5 acres of harborfront land it holds in public trust.
Port staff delivered its offer to Linnabary after the meeting.
Linnabary’s request to buy the property and the port’s disinclination to grant it dates from before March 10, when the impatient Platypus owner brought the issue out of confidential discussions and into a port commissioners’ public meeting.
At that session, port commissioners Colleen McAleer and Jim Hallett expressed their willingness to sell the site if that were their only alternative. Calhoun demurred.
Since then, McAleer and Hallett have said they prefer to lease the site, but haven’t ruled out a sale.
Calhoun said Tuesday he might vote against selling even in the face of public pressure to do so.
“We have not made any port decisions on this yet,” he told about four-dozen people attending the PABA meeting.
“These are just my thoughts on this issue, and I hope there’s some ongoing dialogue.”
Calhoun’s presentation to the business association was part history lesson, part civics lecture, part preview of what may happen next.
Washington state’s harborfronts once were monopolized by shipbuilders, railroad magnates and timber barons, Calhoun said, who choked out competitive “upstart businesses” into the 20th century.
The state Legislature created port authorities in 1911, and Clallam County voters approved a countywide port district in 1922.
Calhoun decried a “gentrification” of industrial harborfront in other places around Puget Sound, noting that shopping centers and condominiums don’t provide the same family-wage jobs as the industries they replace.
And harborfront is a finite resource with no more of it available, he noted.
“The public will best be served by keeping the public port public,” he said.
Calhoun also said Linnabary had set a price of $700,000 on the land but that it could prove to be worth up to $2 million if appraised for its income-producing potential.
The port’s lease offer contains what Calhoun called “creative” provisions, such as paving the approach to the shipbuilder’s Travel Lift and constructing a wash-down area.
“I’ve never seen in my years on the commission the kinds of opportunities that we’re offering in this case,” he said, including the port’s willingness to use its bonding capacity to finance capital improvements on the Platypus site.
Nevertheless, he said,”I suspect it will be rejected without further attempt at negotiations.”
Commissioners next would decide if they’d authorize Executive Director Ken O’Hollaren to negotiate a sales agreement with Linnabary.
However, “I would be very surprised if the port will decide to accept the terms proposed by Platypus,” Calhoun said.
He recalled the public pressure that prevailed on previous port commissioners to sell the Westport Shipyard site next door to Platypus in 2002.
“I may still vote no in the face of overwhelming demand if I am convinced that it is not warranted,” Calhoun said.
Moreover, his email about the question is running 4 to 1 against selling the site, he said.
Linnabary wasn’t optimistic about breaking the impasse, although he said he was pleased that the issue had become public and that discussions were continuing about some possible solution.
Port commissioners, all of whom attended the PABA meeting, could act on either an agreed-upon lease or a sale within a month following negotiations, Calhoun said, although they did not mention Platypus during their regular meeting that followed in the port headquarters, 338 W. First St.
PABA several weeks ago voted to support selling the site to Platypus. Meanwhile, the council of the Jamestown S’Klallam tribe, Calhoun said, has expressed hopes the port can find a solution to the Platypus issue.
The Clallam County Economic Development Council executive board, however, has reached no conclusion about the question, Randall Johnson, an EDC executive board member and president of Green Crow Inc., told commissioners.