With New Neighbors and Less Demand, Small Yard Closes Up

Shipyard worker looks on as Zidell prepares to launch its final barge (Paul Benecki / MarEx)

By Paul Benecki 2017-06-19 21:07:35

On a cloudy, damp Friday, a few hundred people gathered at the Zidell Marine yard in Portland, Oregon to watch the longtime barge-builder's final vessel go down the ways. Zidell is closing, its yard hit by shrinking demand and hemmed in by an increasingly upscale neighborhood. About 50 jobs will be lost when it goes.

Maritime firms have always been among the first to feel pressure when cities begin to gentrify: they are located on the waterfront, by definition, and often find that the prime land they sit on grows in value more quickly than their businesses expand. Their neighborhoods become populated with high-end offices and condominiums, and welding, hammering and sandblasting seem increasingly out of place. In Zidell's case, the new neighbors include a collection of 30-story condominium towers; a $60 million aerial tram; the Oregon Health Sciences University's Center for Health & Healing; and – soon – three new medical research towers for the Knight Cancer Institute, which will employ about 400 people on-site.

The majority of this multi-billion-dollar development complex sits on brownfield land that once belonged to Zidell Ship Dismantling Company, a scrapping firm founded in 1946. That operation eventually grew to include Zidell Marine's small but successful barge-building yard, which produced hundreds of tank barges, deck barges and other vessels over the course of its six decades in business. Now, Zidell's last remaining 33 acres of land will become an urban development like the rest – a 15-20 building complex called "Zidell Yards," with housing, shopping, and offices. The city and the developers will collaborate on building a park and a small boat launch for kayaks where the slipway once was. 

Some of the yard's former employees will have work in preparing the site for redevelopment, and some will retire. Zidell says that it is helping the rest to find positions elsewhere. The firm's barge leasing / chartering business and its welded steel fittings factory, located elsewhere in Portland, will continue operations. 

The “heritage park” at Zidell’s slipway (ZRZ Realty)

Parkway under the Ross Island Bridge (ZRZ Realty)

Zidell today (Sasaki Architects)

Zidell Ship Dismantling, circa 1970 (National Archives)