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Retired county ferry goes condo, well, sorta

Navsource.org, the Internet guide to the history of U.S. Navy ships, lost track of YFB-14 Aquideck after it sold in February for $49,500 on eBay.

The online archive traces the life of the steel-hulled ferry’s history from July 28, 1936, when Bath Iron Works Corp., of Bath, Maine, started building the boat, through its rebirth in 1976 as the M/V Steilacoom on the ferry run between Steilacoom, Ketron Island and Anderson Island.

But the archive entry ends with the words “fate unknown.”

Not anymore, mate.

Drive down to the north end of Ruston Way where the old Asarco copper smelter used to sit on the point between Tacoma and Ruston. There you’ll see a 151-foot-long white ferry boat still as seaworthy as ever and draped with banners that identify its newest name: “Point Ruston.”

Welders and carpenters have started retrofitting the ferry with a 1,200-square-foot grand salon and sales offices. By early November it will become the floating, traveling showroom for Point Ruston, the residential, commercial, office and parks redevelopment that will rise from the former industrial site.

Mike Cohen, the developer of Point Ruston, bought the boat from R.T. Wallace of Hado Inc., Las Vegas, who bought it in February on eBay from Pierce County.

“We had known for awhile that we needed to get a sales office set up,” said Cohen, owner of MC Construction. “We thought about what should we do and where should it go. On property like this, you want one that lasts for a number of years, but the problem is, as you develop, it keeps getting in the way and you have to move it. We wondered how we were we going to deal with that, and somebody suggested putting it on a barge.

“But we realized how ugly barges are. And what would we put on the barge? A modular trailer? That didn’t sound that great.”

Then one day this summer Cohen’s wife, Julie McBride, surfed eBay and found that Wallace had listed the old ferry he’d just bought for resale. Not by bid but by negotiated sale.

How much did Cohen pay? He won’t say.

“I’d be too embarrassed” to say, Cohen said, acknowledging only that it amounted to “way, way more” than Pierce County got for it.

Cohen would divulge that he’ll spend nearly $500,000 on the retrofit, the interior design and the moorage site.

Because a first-class development requires a first-class showroom.

“When we saw the ad and the classic lines, we knew it would be an instant attraction,” Cohen said. “We just couldn’t get it out of our minds. Everyone we talked to about it thought it was a perfect solution.

“It’s an authentic historical ferry, well-built and well-designed, and it fits with the whimsical-but-quality nature and unique nature of our project.”

And yet, the perfect solution made for imperfect nights.

“I lost a lot of sleep, actually, wondering if I’m crazy to take on such a project,” he said. “Our plate was full. And it’s a serious responsibility to buy a boat that size … But in the end we felt it set the right tone and would make people know that we’re for real.”

After the ferry’s transformation, Cohen will move it to the Tacoma side of his development site near the end of the Ruston Way promenade. He’ll moor it sideways to make it visible to patrons of the linear waterfront park.

Because of the novelty, Cohen expects a lot of looky-loos, which could turn into sales. Plus, he plans to sail the Point Ruston on occasion to Seattle and other Puget Sound ports to show off his development straddling the border between Tacoma and Ruston.

Point Ruston, the development project, will take at least eight years, possibly more, to build and sell all its phases.

Which means Cohen must give some thought to his floating showroom’s next life? He already has.

“In order to justify buying it, we had to convince ourselves of its future potential. We’re thinking a floating restaurant and lounge,” Cohen said.

Alert navsource.org.

Dan Voelpel: 253-597-8785

dan.voelpel@thenewstribune.com

YFB-14 Aquideck Facts

Type: Yard ferryboat

Name: Algonquin word meaning “at the island”

Size: Length, 151 feet; beam, 53 feet; draft, 9 feet 6 inches

Speed: 9 knots

Built: 1936 at Bath Iron Works Corp., Bath, Maine

Launched: Feb. 13, 1937

Placed in service: May 28, 1937, at Naval Torpedo Station, Newport, R.I.

Naval honors: American Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal, National Defense Service Medal

Placed in reserve: October 1971

Transferred: To U.S. Department of the Interior, Nov. 1, 1975

Transferred: To state of Washington, Dec. 19, 1975

Custody assumed: By Pierce County in 1976, for the Steilacoom-Ketron Island-Anderson Island run, renamed M/V Steilacoom

Sold: February 2007 for $49,500 to R.T. Wallace of Hado Inc., Las Vegas

Bought: July 2007 by Mike Cohen of MC Construction as floating sales office for Point Ruston development

This article originally appeared in The News Tribune

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