St. John's dockyard sold

Moira Baird mbaird@thetelegram.com
Published on March 2, 2010
The St. John's dockyard has been sold, but new owner Paul Antle says the business will remain as is. Top right, Ches Penney. Bottom right, Paul Antle. Dockyard file photo

Newdock has a new owner - businessman Ches Penney has sold the 120-year-old ship repair yard in St. John's to businessman Paul Antle.

Neither Penney nor Antle is disclosing the purchase price of the privately held St. John's Dockyard.

Penney said the deal was in the works for about two months, and Antle has inquired about the business periodically over the years.

Newdock has a new owner - businessman Ches Penney has sold the 120-year-old ship repair yard in St. John's to businessman Paul Antle.

Neither Penney nor Antle is disclosing the purchase price of the privately held St. John's Dockyard.

Penney said the deal was in the works for about two months, and Antle has inquired about the business periodically over the years.

"I felt this is the time," Penney said. "I'm 78 and it's time for me to move on. I found who I believe is the right person to own it and who has the money to buy it."

He was also keen to sell the business to a local businessperson.

"I wanted it to be bought and operated by a Newfoundlander."

Penney and then-partner Austin Burry of the Burry Group acquired the troubled dockyard from Marine Atlantic in 1997. Three years later, Penney bought out Burry to become the sole owner.

"It's operating very well and it's a very successful company," Penney said. "There'll always be a place for the dockyard in St. John's."

Now, the dockyard is in Antle's hands.

"I am the sole owner," Antle said. "I have no partners."

He has sold most of the environmental businesses he started in Newfoundland and said he was looking for another business.

"I was looking for something to anchor me in the province again, and something that had substance and longevity.

"Ches and I did speak about the dockyard some time ago. He was looking for a home for that business and I was looking for a business, so it just mutually lined up."

Antle has no plans for changes at the dockyard.

"There's no changes from an operational perspective - none," he said. "There's no layoffs ... everything is status quo."

Antle said the dockyard's management team was one of the reasons he bought the business. "It is a good group of people - they know their business, they have a lot of experience and they're just really good to work with."

The management team will continue to look after the day-to-day operations.

A chemical engineer by training, Antle has worked steadily in the environmental industry - founding Island Waste Management in 1990. He sold it for $5.6 million in 2006.

He's president and CEO of Phase Separations Solutions Inc.

The soil remediation company is a wholly owned subsidiary of publicly traded West Mountain Capital Corp., which invests in environmental services companies.

Newdock employs about 300 people at its ship repair and industrial fabrication yard. The seven-hectare property at the west end of the harbour includes a 4,000-tonne marine elevator, a 174-metre drydock and a testing facility for subsea equipment used in the offshore oil industry.

"It's really a part of our history, a part of our culture. It's part of who we are as Newfoundlanders and Labradorians."

The dockyard's core business is repairing and maintaining a variety of ships - Canadian Coast Guard ships, provincial ferries, offshore supply vessels, fishing boats and freight carriers.

"It's going to remain the core business - ship repair," Antle said. "It's kind of like your service station for boats, and, fortunately, it's one of the few in Atlantic Canada."

The yard also does offshore fabrication, but he said that work is "somewhat sporadic."

The dockyard deal may also put to rest speculation about Antle's political future, for now.

He has been rumoured as a contender for the upcoming provincial Liberal leadership race. And in 2006, he ran for the federal Liberals in St. John's East, losing to then-incumbent Tory Norm Doyle.

"I think it's probably safe to say a political career is on the backburner for a while," said Antle.

"I'm positive that it's going to be in my future at some point. But, right now, my focus is on business."

mbaird@thetelegram.com