Port Authority close to lease deal with St. Johns Ship Building

The Putnam County Port Authority is close to closing a deal with a local shipbuilding company that would lease a 25,000-square-foot facility at the Barge Port, county officials said Wednesday.

The proposed terms of the agreement between the Port Authority and St. Johns Ship Building Inc. are subject to change, but many of the details were discussed at a workshop Tuesday.

County officials are offering St. Johns Ship Building a one-year deal with an option to extend for a second year, County Administrator Terry Suggs said. The company would pay $5,250 a month, plus a 6.75% tax rate.

St. Johns Ship Building would also pay for utilities at the facility. Bobby Barfield, the company’s vice president of operations who made the case for its bid to county commissioners, referred questions to the company’s administrative team. 

“We have a great need for expansion, and the Port Authority’s location would be a great location for us to use as a satellite facility,” Barfield said Tuesday at a Port Authority meeting. A request for comments about the company’s plans for the facility was not returned by press time Wednesday. 

If the company agrees to the terms of the lease, Suggs has the authority to approve the deal and execute it. If there are “substantial changes,” Suggs said, the agreement would return to the Port Authority for reconsideration.

The county had trouble finding a long-term tenant for the Barge Port facility, which has been vacant for six months.

“This will provide the county with sustained revenue for 24 months minimum, and it gives a local business a chance to continue growing their organization in Putnam County,” he said. “It wasn’t just the lease that’s important, but also the relationship with a local company that’s doing well.”

The company, which began in 2006, currently has a shipyard at 560 Stokes Landing Road in Palatka, where they build a diverse range of steel boats, including ferries and cargo vessels. Its clients include “both commercial and government entities building under U.S. and foreign flags,” according to its website.

Barfield said the company currently has 160 employees and “does $30 million in business a year.”

Another company, J&M Metal Works,  attempted to submit a bid for the lease but was quickly denied at the Port Authority meeting after presenting only a single-page letter proposing to pay $3,000 a month for rent and $1,000 in monthly dockage fees.

Commissioner Jeff Rawls said the lack of information alone was enough to oppose a deal with that company.

“My concern about this is there’s no end to it,” Commissioner Terry Turner added.

“If they want to rent our building, if they want it for a year, they need to offer us a one-year rent. If they want us to give them short-term rental by the month, I don’t think it’s in the county’s advantage to do that.”

Following the Port Authority’s motion to deny J&M Metal Works’ bid, the lease was moved to the workshop for discussion, where Barfield represented St. Johns Ship Building to make the case for it to negotiate with county officials.

Palatka Daily News

1825 St. Johns Ave.
Palatka, FL 32177
(386) 312-5200


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