Port of Seattle approves $33 million Fishermen’s Terminal building renovation

The Port of Seattle Commission approved a $32.6 million plan Tuesday to redevelop the 109-year-old Ship Supply Building, the Port’s oldest, into a business incubator.

Located at Fishermen’s Terminal in Ballard, the building will house the Maritime Innovation Center, offering incubator programs for maritime industry startups. Their areas of focus may range from sustainable ship design to seafood product development.

The Port said Washington Maritime Blue, a nonprofit committed to the development of maritime business, technology and practices, will be the building’s main tenant and in charge of running the center. The Port is a Maritime Blue investor. The two entities haven’t reached a contract yet, said Kyra Lise, the Port’s director of real estate development.

The Port initially approved the project in 2020 with estimated costs of $15.5 million — $10.5 million from the Port and $5 million from the Washington State Department of Commerce. The now-approved cost at $32.6 million, which includes the initial $5 million state investment, is more than double the 2020 costs. 

The increase stems mainly from the COVID-19 pandemic, which has had ripple effects on supply chains and labor costs, Lise said.

New assessments of soil conditions and foundation work at the site also contributed to the increase, Lise said. 

“This [building] is built on silt piles that are 100-plus years old,” she said. “A lot of the cost amplification is in the foundation and reclamation work and the complexity of building a new foundation to a contemporary safety standard.”

Because of the soil complexity and age of the structure, there are risks associated with the construction that are also included in the estimated costs, she said.

Costs dropped slightly in the Port’s final analysis, she added, because inflationary pressures have waned off in recent quarters.

Fred Felleman, a Port of Seattle commissioner, said that the business incubator project is part of an investment into the future of Fishermen’s Terminal, which is undergoing a long-term redevelopment plan. 

“In the maritime sector, we rarely spend this kind of money,” Felleman said.

The redevelopment is expected to create jobs, which he said is one way of measuring profitability despite the Fishermen’s Terminal not being a “profit center.”

Other ongoing initiatives include site and public right-of-way improvements. In 2021, a proposed “Gateway” building, intended to serve as new industrial space for maritime businesses, was put “on pause” until 2026, with the effects of the pandemic cited.

Aside from the Ship Supply Building, the port has completed 30% of the design for three light-industrial buildings at Terminal 91 Uplands. Lise said matured businesses that come out of the incubator may lease some of that space.

Felleman said the Maritime Innovation Center, a 15,000-square-foot project, will lead to collaboration between “entrepreneurs, investors and workers,” with a focus on sustainable, “blue-green” development.

“We’re now running ships on methanol. We’re doing slippery hulls [with] better paint jobs. We’re designing the vessels differently,” Felleman said. “They’re still doing the ‘blue’ economy, but in a greener way.”

Port operations are a source of greenhouse gas pollution in Seattle. As a result, the Northwest Seaport Alliance, which serves as the port authority for cargo operations at the ports of Seattle and Tacoma, unveiled plans in 2020 to fully decarbonize the ports’ operations, from cargo ships to trucking and rail, by 2050.

Part of Seattle’s heritage

Built during the construction of the Fishermen’s Terminal in 1914, the Ship Supply Building served fishing ships and workers. It is currently leased as a warehouse by UnCruise Adventures, an Alaska cruise operator, which will be vacating, Lise said.

The new innovation center will preserve the old-growth wooden beams from the building’s original structure, while redesigning the facade and interior for office space. Preserving the building’s cultural heritage serves as a reminder of Seattle’s long-standing fishing industry, Felleman said.

“This maritime region is a rich area that people are forgetting about,” he said. “Having this historic structure bringing us from the old to the new, [that] is not lost on me.”

The project will also erect historical markers at the site, integrating it with the existing Fishermen’s Memorial for lost sailors. The space will be open to the public, while maintaining a barrier between them and the working waterfront.

The area is unique in that it allows the public to see the fishing industry firsthand, which is an “ongoing, living business,” Felleman said.

“Having this as a draw is not just good for awareness of the industry, but also for the other retail operators down there to have the foot traffic,” he said.

Construction of the Maritime Innovation Center is scheduled to begin by the second quarter of 2024 and be completed by the end of 2025.

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