Tacoma’s oldest shipyard to be sold on courthouse steps Friday

A last-hour rescue effort for Tacoma’s sole remaining major shipyard has failed.

The 90-year-old J.M. Martinac Shipbuilding Co.’s Foss Waterway shipyard will be sold Friday morning in a foreclosure auction on the plaza of the county courthouse.

Joe Martinac Jr., the shipyard’s president, and the last of a long line of family shipyard managers, said eleventh hour efforts to find new business for the shipyard failed to produce new contracts that would stave off the shipyard’s auction.

“There were boats to be built out there, but we just couldn’t put those deals together with this hammer over our heads,” he said.

The shipyard owes more than $5 million to its last major customer, Lynden’s Alaskan Leader Fisheries, that it can’t pay because it has no new projects to bring in money.

“I don’t think we can save the shipyard,” said Martinac Thursday. “But, God knows, we tried.”

Martinac previously had bounced back from several years of lean times by building a series of high-tech Navy and commercial tugboats and a long-line fishing boat for the Alaska fishing grounds.

But once that 184-foot fishing boat was completed a year ago, the shipyard found its cupboard once more was bare.

That fishing boat’s owners had lent Martinac $5 million in late 2012 when the company’s longtime private financier pulled the plug on the shipyard’s line of credit.

The shipyard was in the final stages of building the fishing boat, the Northern Leader, when its credit dried up. To ensure its vessel was completed, the boat’s owner extended the loan.

Martinac said that in the end the shipyard and the boat owner had differences over the cost of features added to the vessel.

Several Martinac customers have expressed interest in ordering new tugs from the shipyard, said Martinac, but considering the shipyard’s financial situation were reluctant to make commitments.

Alaskan Leader Fisheries officials did not return calls and e-mails Thursday.

If no other potential buyers are willing to pay more than the loan amount at Friday’s auction, Alaskan Leader will likely end up with the shipyard as part of its portfolio of properties. The land on which the shipyard sits is on the east side of the near-downtown Thea Foss Waterway. If no one wanted to revive the shipyard, the land could be redeveloped for offices, warehouses or other water-dependent uses. The land has a panoramic view of the downtown Tacoma skyline on a waterway whose west side is being redeveloped with condominiums, apartments, restaurants, marinas and hotels.

The shipyard opened in 1924 building wooden vessels. During its nine decades of existence, the shipyard built fishing vessels, tugboats and patrol vessels both for private industry and the Navy. During the second half of the last century, Martinac was the premiere builder of large tuna seiners in the country furnishing boats for fishing companies in California.