A Tacoma seafood sales company, long a fixture on the Thea Foss Waterway, will remain on its present site and remodel its building thanks to a property sale approved this week by the Foss Waterway Development Authority.
Johnny’s Seafood Co., now part of the nation’s largest seafood company, Pacific Seafood, had once considered moving from its 1199 Dock Street site to a strip mall in Fife, but now it says it will undertake an extensive remodeling of the building it has occupied since 1975.
Bob Simon, general manager of Pacific’s Washington division, said the company decided to keep and enlarge its footprint on the near-downtown waterway in part to preserve the long heritage of Johnny’s Seafood.
That company was founded in 1954 by “Little John” Gerontis and his partner, “Big John” Cologerou. Pacific bought the business in 2006 from the seafood company’s co-owners, Gary Gerontis and Robert Iverson.
The Foss Development Authority board Wednesday authorized interim authority executive director Su Dowie to execute a sale agreement for the Johnny’s Seafood site and the building that houses the seafood company.
That agreement calls for a $1.3 million building remodeling paid for by Pacific and other provisions that ensure that the seafood company will enhance and maintain the site.
The deal has been under discussion for years between the city authority charged with upgrading the near-downtown waterway and the seafood company.
The authority’s Dowie said the remodeling will add to the waterway’s attractiveness and will help lure other businesses and developments to the area.
Simon said Pacific has been impressed with the progress the authority has made in transforming the waterway from an industrial inlet into an attractive waterfront area.
The sale price of the tract, which the city has leased to Pacific Seafood, is $700,000, some $400,000 less than its appraised value.
Dowie said the authority agreed to sell the land to the Pacific for less because the building needed repairs and because Pacific agreed to complete a public esplanade on the waterway edge of the property. Pacific also agreed to use a Pierce County firm for the remodeling project, had promised to hire Pierce County residents when the business expands and had agreed to donate funds or in-kind services yearly to promote the waterway.
The business now has 11 employees. Once the remodeling is done, that number could expand to 15, said Simon.
Simon said Pacific has hired Tacoma architectural firm BCRA to design the remodeled space.
Construction should begin sometime this spring with completion early in 2014. The seafood retailing operation will remain open during the project.
The Pacific Seafood general manager said he brought Pacific Seafood President Frank Dulcich to the site three times to show him the potential the site offered. Dulcich agreed to allocate corporate capital funds in part it reminded him of the seafood retail operation where he got his start in the business in Portland.
The remodeled building will feature a waterfront bistro operation with outside tables on the waterway. Patrons there can buy light seafood selections to take out or eat on the premises. The building will be reoriented toward the water. The retail seafood sales areas inside will feature demonstrations of how seafood is processed.
Directly across from the seafood retail operation is the J.M. Martinac shipyard which builds tugs and large fishing boats. Simon said the new bistro will provide a prime spot for patrons to watch that activity.
The building will not only serve as a retail outlet, but also as a distribution center for seafood destined for restaurant customers in Tacoma, Olympia and other parts of the South Sound.
Simon said the bistro operation is not intended to compete with the seafood company’s restaurant customers.
“We supply all of the Ruston Way restaurants,” he said. “The last thing we want to do is to take customers from them.”
The bistro primarily will serve customers living in the condominiums and apartments along Dock Street and visitors to the attractions along the waterway include the Museum of Glass and the nearby LeMay auto museum.
The sale will also help the waterway authority, which had to seek funding from the city this year to keep its operations going. The sale proceeds will help fund next year’s authority budget. The land to be sold now belongs to the city but, with City Council approval, the land will be transferred to the authority before the sale.