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  Some Good News From the Waterfront
June 27, 2005

In the September 12, 2003, E-Forum, Richmond Hosts America Cup Yachts, I wrote about Americas Cup contenders at Richmondís KKMI boatyard. Richmondís reputation as a waterfront city serving the maritime community and creating good paying jobs for workers skilled in working with their hands continues to grow. See the following article from Sundayís West County Times:

Richmond's investment in marina pays off
Posted on Sun, Jun. 26, 2005


Driving along an unassuming stretch of West Cutting Boulevard, you can peek out the window and catch a glimpse of up to 70 boats at any given time.

Each vessel has its story, from superstar yachts such as Larry Ellison's black Oracle racer to the Elizabeth Muir, a classically designed former cover model for Wooden Boat Magazine, to a Coast Guard ship that patrols the waters off the Central Coast.

The vessels could be found last month in various states of repair at two boat yards, Keefe Kaplan Maritime Inc., or KKMI, and Bay Ship & Yacht Co., that are at the center of a flourishing marine industry in Richmond. The network of boat-based businesses sprouted over time, buoyed by years of development and relatively cheap real estate, and the area is now gaining attention in the larger California marine community.

"It was basically just discovered," said James Walter, the marina manager at the Marina Bay Yacht Harbor. "People didn't even realize that the Richmond area had so much boating opportunity ."

Walter attributes the success of the local marine industry to several factors, including the city's development of the marina, which was privatized several years ago. He also credits new development at Brickyard Cove and Point Richmond with raising the profile of an area that is naturally suited to boat-related business.

"We're positioned on what I call the 'central bay,' between two bridges, Richmond-San Rafael and the Bay Bridge," Walter said.

Mark Howe, a former chairman of the Richmond Chamber of Commerce, said the city has benefited from its relatively cheap waterfront properties and from the presence of the Richmond Yacht Club.

"You have a concentration of world-class sailors," said Howe, who regularly races in his 40-foot boat. "Richmond's yacht club has attracted a lot of them."

The yacht club's junior sailing programs for young people have made the club highly regarded, said Bob Gorman, the executive director of the Northern California Marine Association, a San Leandro-based recreational marine industry group. He said the club in turn has helped Richmond gain a better reputation amongst boaters.

"It's very well respected within the boating community," Gorman said of the city.

W.J.M. Fordyce, a Vallejo-based boating industry writer who covers Northern California for The Log, a boating newspaper, calls Richmond a community in transition. Noting that the city grew up around Henry Kaiser's shipbuilding efforts during World War II, he said it suffered when such jobs dried up. However, much like Marin County's boating center of Sausalito, he said, it now appears to be undergoing a marine-led revival.

"From the water in, there's sort of a renaissance going on," said Fordyce, who used to live in Point Richmond. "You've got a bunch of people with a lot of disposable income moving in and there are businesses there springing up to cater to them; Point Richmond sort of went through a renaissance and I think it's starting to spread out to other areas of Richmond."

The renewed marine activity is unfolding in a city with a rich history of waterfront industry. Today Richmond is home to the Rosie the Riveter memorial and national park, monuments honoring homefront labor, particularly by women, that was crucial to the nation's World War II mobilization. The memorial sits on the former Kaiser Shipyard No. 2 site, known as one of the most productive domestic shipyards during the war.

Today Richmond's port handles petroleum shipments and container cargo and is an operations base for several multinational corporations. At the same time, it has thriving small marine businesses. The most prominent is KKMI, Fordyce said. Gorman, of the Northern California Marine Association, echoes the sentiment, saying that KKMI and its neighboring boatyard have increased awareness of the city's waterfront.

"KKMI and Bay Ship & Yacht ... probably put Richmond on the map for rigging and outfitting new boats and for repair and maintenance of old boats," Gorman said.

Paul Kaplan, a yacht broker, and Ken Keefe, a boatyard supervisor, joined to open KKMI in 1996. It is a rare example of a business that combines boat sales and maintenance services.

In its nine years of operation, KKMI has bought neighboring Richmond Boat Works and grown to 44 employees. While it has a range of clients and up to 40 boats on the premises at a time, the company has drawn attention for prominent customers such as Ellison and other America's Cup contenders.

The boatyard business is tough, Kaplan said, because of the industry's seasonal nature and the many public agencies that have a hand in regulation. Kaplan said KKMI has remained profitable primarily by hiring experienced, effective staff. He also credits the city of Richmond with being easy to work with and for trying to improve the area.

"This place has really undergone a metamorphosis, this whole area," Kaplan said.

Steve Taft manages the smaller Bay Ship & Yacht Co. boatyard, located down the street from KKMI. Bay Ship & Yacht Co. also has a shipyard in Alameda.

The Bay Ship & Yacht Co. boatyard in Richmond, which has 28 employees, tends to focus on commercial work. Its clients include the Coast Guard and boats doing support work on local bridge construction projects.

Bay Ship & Yacht Co. has been in its location for about 13 years, and Taft has been manager for a decade. He has seen significant change in that period.

"It used to be a pretty scary place," he said of the surrounding area. "Now it's not."

Taft said his yard has a friendly competitive relationship with the other local boat businesses because all have a shared stake in the area's image.

"If you've got a Jack in the Box, the best thing you can do is put a McDonald's next door because people think about going there to get fast food," he said. "The fact that there are two boatyards next to each other works because there's a synergy there; people start thinking about coming to Richmond to get boat work done."

Such interaction among local marine businesses has changed the way Whale Point Marine & Hardware Co. operates. A marine supply firm in Richmond since 1978, Whale Point added a hardware business about eight years ago to service customers coming in to use the nearby boatyards, said owner Louis Windhurst.

"We all kind of work together," he said.

With nearly three decades of perspective, Windhurst agreed that the area is transforming. He mentioned the "shady" biker bars of Point Richmond's past and said the region has "come a long way."

"It's always been kind of undervalued and it's sort of being rediscovered," he said.

Business trickles down to an assortment of smaller firms involved in one way or another with boating. Quantum Sail Design Group, a sailmaker with an office at Brickyard Cove, works with a number of other marine firms in the area, said Gareth Orkney, a Web designer for the company.

"It's a bunch of little businesses," he said. "Everybody knows each other."

Orkney thinks the area's affordable waterfront property has been key to its growth. Sailing is doing well in general, he said, and so he thinks Richmond's waterfront revival will continue.

"I would say it probably expands as the market exists," he said.