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Published: Thursday, 9/15/2005

Toledo Shipyard operator to stop building


Despite millions of dollars in pledged public aid for modernizations and upgrades, the Toledo Shipyard s operator has indicated that it will pull anchor by the end of October, costing the area about 70 jobs.

Wisconsin-based Manitowoc Marine Group, currently operating a ship building and repair yard at 2345 Front St., via its subsidiary, Toledo Shiprepair Co., met with and sent letters to local managers and employees yesterday saying the company would cease operations at the site by Oct. 31.

The operator, which has leased the shipyard from the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority since 1992, also met with top officials of the port authority yesterday to say they would be activating a clause in their lease allowing them to move out after a notification period of 120 days.

The period would begin at the end of this month, and allow the company to be free of their lease s obligations by Jan. 31.

Jim Hartung, president of the port authority, said he was reviewing the lease to see if the company s interpretation of the clause was correct.

Regardless, Mr. Hartung said he would not fight too hard to keep the operator beyond its obligations.

I want an operator in that facility that is 100 percent committed, that will be aggressive in the marketplace to make that facility profitable. I m not looking for an operator held there by some legality, Mr. Hartung said, adding that he and others had been in negotiation with the company about upgrades at the shipyard for years, and had yet to receive a site plan.

Over the last several years, a package of public assistance was put together to modernize and upgrade the bare bones facility, including $5 million in federal dollars, $1 million from Lucas County, and $1.5 million from the city of Toledo.

Manitowoc said in March, 2003, that it hoped to add 150 to 300 jobs to the facility.

Mr. Hartung said he met in person with the company s president, Robert Herre, yesterday morning to ask why the company was leaving.

Essentially, they were saying that the facility in Toledo was not competitive, productive, or profitable which are the same reasons they used three or four years ago looking for the public/private partnership, Mr. Hartung said.

Mr. Hartung said that when he asked Mr. Herre why the public money would not be enough to make the facility profitable, he was not given an answer.

Essentially, there was no answer, Mr. Hartung said. I don t recall the exact words ... I was not satisfied.

Mr. Hartung noted that there had been a turnover of Manitowoc Marine Group s management within the last year including Mr. Herre, who took the reins in February sparking major changes in the company s corporate planning for future development.

Mr. Herre could not be reached for comment last night.

I m hoping that the city and the county and the federal monies can remain earmarked and set aside, Mr. Hartung added.

U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), who fought to secure the federal grant money to modernize the facility, suggested in a statement yesterday that the dollars would stay in place.

I view [the money] as a down-payment on the future of the Great Lakes maritime industry in Toledo and a readily available resource to attract a new operator for the Toledo Shipyard, she said.

Fred Keith, business manager of Boilermakers Local 85, which has about 60 union members at the site, agreed that it would be best to look for an operator that is committed.

The guys that are working there, it will be devastating, but we re not going to let it go downhill, he said. We re going to look at this as an opportunity. If somebody doesn t want to be there, let em go and get somebody new.

Contact Tad Vezner at: tvezner@theblade.com or 419-724-6050.

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