Point Hope charts course for future

Source:  The Times Colonist
By: Carla Wilson
Published: June 14, 2013

Point Hope Maritime is taking a fresh look at upgrading buildings and infrastructure as the historic shipyard grapples with the best way to utilize limited space. “We are maxed out right now,” says shipyard owner Ian Maxwell, who leads the Ralmax Group of Companies.

A new study is focused on how to accomplish its goals within the space and infrastructure that exists on a strip of city-owned leased land on the west side of the Upper Harbour. A shipyard has operated on that site for 140 years.

Maxwell, who also operates several recycling companies, stepped in 10 years ago to take over the assets of the bankrupt Point Hope Shipyard and assume the land and water lot leases.

Maxwell has brought stability to the yard, which had battled for survival for two decades. The yard went through various owners as Canada’s shipbuilding and repair sector rode a rollercoaster of uncertainty.

When then-owner Seaspan opted to close the yard in the mid-1980s, workers rallied to buy it. It happened at a time when citizens fought to save Victoria’s working harbour. Employee-owners ran Point Hope for a decade, but sold it amid financial and management challenges.

Since Maxwell arrived, about $20 million has been invested in the shipyard, including a new marine railway, wharf and environmental systems.

Point Hope employs about 125 workers at peak periods and pumps millions of dollars into the capital region’s economy.

The average payroll is $750,000 per month, plus another $500,000 for contractors, said Doug Crowder, Ralmax chief financial officer.

Annual direct economic impact is conservatively estimated at $16 million and is likely closer to $20 million, Crowder said. Those figures represent payrolls, suppliers, facility costs, rents and other related costs. Point Hope issues about 215 cheques to suppliers each month.

Maxwell’s objective is to complete improvements by constructing a new fabrication and machining shop and adding two or three spur lines to the marine railway, which are used to move ships out of the water and around on the land.

“We want to finish Point Hope,” Maxwell said.

New spur lines would make the yard more flexible and allow it to take on smaller jobs between larger projects, he said.

The yard typically handles vessels between 60 and 180 feet long, Maxwell said. About 75 per cent of the work is maritime-related.

Key to any development is how much land is available to Point Hope, which has hit hurdles in its goal of expanding to the south.

“As of yet, we haven’t come up with a good plan to solve this dilemma,” said Maxwell.

The company leases Harbour Road parcels that are locations for a large workshop building, areas for ship painting and repairs, the marine railway and the United Engineering building, where metal fabrication and machining take place

Plans for a new machine and fabrication building remain alive, although Maxwell is thinking of a scaled-down version from a 45,000-square-foot concept put forward last year. Local residents objected to the size of a proposed building envelope on the site’s north end. A smaller building could be located on the same footprint as the United Engineering building, he said.

Along with demolishing the United Engineering building, excavation and grading work would be necessary prior to construction of the spur lines, Maxwell said. That package would probably cost less than $1 million, not including the new building. Demolition would require city approval.

Point Hope also leases the land to the south and would like to tear down the old Island Plate and Steel building. It uses about 7,300 square feet in the 19,000- square-foot building, Crowder said.

The goal for years has been to take out the building and docks to consolidate the steel plate operations with United Engineering, and create room for Point Hope expansion.

Victoria leases a portion of the Island Plate building to the RCMP for a mess hall (social area) at $1 per year in an agreement running to 2026, Katie Josephson, city spokeswoman, said in a statement.

Lease renewal dates are in April 2015 and November 2016. Point Hope and the city are discussing a new lease rate for the Island Plate and Steel site.

“The city completed a fair market appraisal of [that] property and has advised the tenant of the increase. However, parties have yet to agree to the terms,” Josephson said.

Crowder said Victoria is seeking to more than double the rate by increasing it from $105,000 annually to $230,000 per year effective May of last year, a figure Point Hope maintains is too high.

Point Hope had also sought a lease for 203 Harbour Rd. but that site is unavailable because it is being used as a laydown area for construction of the new Johnson Street bridge.

Access to the southern portion was crucial to the company’s now-shelved proposal, announced in 2011, to build a 170-metre-long graving dock. The graving dock would have created jobs for 250 skilled workers, the company said earlier.

The graving dock is off the table even as Canada’s national shipbuilding procurement strategy still has $2 billion worth of work on small ships to contract out, aimed at bolstering smaller yards.

Shipyard a family affair

Point Hope Maritime is a legacy of more than 80 years of work for three generations of a Victoria family.

Capt. Thomas Moore started as a deckhand in 1939 at Island Tug and Barge on what became Point Hope Shipyards. Moore earned his captain’s ticket in 1942, remaining with the company until his death in 1963, said son Al Moore.

In 1956, Capt. Moore lined up a labourer’s job for his son at Point Hope. Al Moore remained at the yard until retiring as welding foreman in 2000.

Moore, 79, loved the job and the camaraderie among fellow workers.

Son-in-law Rod Peter was brought into the shipyard in 1983 by Moore, also starting as a labourer. Peter, 54, worked his way up to paint foreman and now manages a staff of 24.

Peter and Moore were among the group of employees who banded together to buy Point Hope after its former owner decided to shut it down in the mid-1980s.

The first of Peter and wife Barbara’s three children arrived just as the closure was announced. But he stuck with the shipyard and said the work allowed him to support his family. “It’s a great way to make a living,” he said.

Moore praises Ian Maxwell, who took on a bankrupt Point Hope 10 years ago and has kept it alive. “You see the place grow and grow, and you take pride in it,” he said.

Peter agrees. “He’s done a fantastic job,” pointing to dramatic improvements in environmental infrastructure and practices. Increased capability at the yard has allowed the workforce to grow.”