Renovations Bring Value To Mcnasby's Seafood

Coming Out Of The Shell. . .

October 21, 1991|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,Staff writer

After two years and several false starts, workers will begin rebuilding seafood processing areas this week at the former McNasby Oyster Co. in Eastport.

When Annapolis officials bought the 78-year-old, closed-down plant in 1989, they proclaimed the revival of seafood processing on the Annapolis waterfront.

The city leased the Second Street building to the Maryland Watermen's Cooperative, and now the co-op's 54 members sell seafood throughretail and wholesale outlets, increasing sales each month. But renovations of processing areas have hit delay after delay.

"It's been a long frustrating process," said Andrew Kaelin, general manager of the co-op, who says processing is key to the project's success. "The intention was always to process and add value to the seafood products."

Renovations finally will start this week, with workers first demolishing areas the state Health Department has deemed unsafe or unsanitary. Workers will raise ceilings, install a sprinkler system and improve drainage, among other improvements, Kaelin said.

Four monthsof renovations will cost $165,000, which officials will pay for witha $15,000 city grant, a $75,000 county low-interest loan and a $75,000 state low-interest loan from the Department of Economic and Employment Development. Mary Burkholder, city economic development administrator, said the project has fallen a few weeks behind schedule in negotiations with a low-bid contractor.

If all goes as planned, Kaelin hopes to re-open the shucking area in about six weeks and hire about 10 people to shuck oysters that watermen harvest from the Chesapeake Bay. The co-op will sell the oysters wholesale locally and regionally, Kaelin said. By next spring when crab season begins, Kaelin hopesto re-open the crab picking area, he said.

The McNasby project has won national acclaim. A year after the plant re-opened, the Maryland Chapter of the American Planning Association honored city officialsfor buying and restoring it.

And more recently, Washington-based the Waterfront Center, an internationalwaterfront development organization, recognized McNasby as an "Industrial/Working Waterfront" project, lauding city officials for "maintaining the heritage of the working waterfront" and "revitalizing a crucial waterfront industry essential to the Chesapeake Bay region."

Out of 90 applicants, the groupchose McNasby along with 18 other projects, including Ellis Island National Park; Chicago River Design Guidelines; Pier Four, San Francisco; and several European projects.

The 82-year-old former oyster plant closed in 1987 as the city's last seafood processor. In September 1989, city officials bought the plant for $1.2 million with state, local and private financing and leased it to the co-op.

Watermen sell the co-op Chesapeake Bay oysters in the winter and crabs in the summer. The co-op sells seafood wholesale

to shucking houses, restaurants and supermarkets and runs a retail fish market that serves theneighborhood. Half the produce comes from co-op members.

The plant, which employs six permanent workers and from four to eight temporary workers, ships soft-shell crabs out of state by air and sends hardcrabs by refrigerated truck to Pennsylvania, New England, New York and the Midwest.

Sales ranged between $50,000 and $60,000 in Augustand September, and the co-op turned a profit during the summer, Kaelin said.

The original plan to revive the city's once-thriving seafood processing industry hit some snags late last year when state health inspectors refused to allow processing until the plant met sanitation and cleanliness standards.

When the city bought the plant, it fell under the jurisdiction of the county Health Department and met that department's standards. But when the co-op opened its retail division, city officials learned they'd have to meet state health guidelines. In March 1990, state inspectors sent the city a 12-page list of required renovations, such as installation of a $25,000 sprinkler, new restrooms and showers and quarry tile flooring.

The renovations will allow the plant to sell fresh crab meat and shucked oysters. That will increase the value of the products, save money otherwise spentprocessing seafood elsewhere and give the plant a competitive edge in national and international markets.

Kaelin also is working on selling precooked frozen crab meat to consumers in Japan and hopes to begin that by next year.

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