Australian boat builder nears deal for Fairhaven site

BELLINGHAM - An Australian boatbuilding firm is poised to make a deal with the Port of Bellingham to lease a manufacturing site on the Fairhaven waterfront.

Shirley McFearin, the port's real estate development manager, said Aluminum Boats Australia hopes to set up shop in a 30,000-square-foot space formerly occupied by Aluminum Chambered Boats before that firm ceased operations in November 2010. The firm would do business here as Aluminum Boats America Ltd.

A five-year lease agreement with the firm will be on port commissioners' agenda during their meeting scheduled for 3 p.m. Tuesday, April 3. The agreement gives the firm 30 days to study the final terms of the deal before they commit, but McFearin said she is confident that the firm will set up shop here.

Their monthly rent would be $10,780, with annual 3 percent increases and three five-year renewal options.

The company manufactures 80-to-100-foot catamaran-style boats used for tourism and passenger ferries, among other things. They expect to have a work force of 25 people that could be larger if things go well.

In the lease agreement, port officials agree to help to accommodate the firm with a different site with better boat-launching facilities if needed. One such site could be the marine trades center the port envisions in the sprawling warehouse building that once stored Georgia-Pacific Corp. pulp and tissue products.

The new firm also helps to strengthen Bellingham's position as a center of boatbuilding and servicing, McFearin said.

All American Marine already builds similar vessels on the south side waterfront, in a site next to Fairhaven Shipyard.

A deal with Aluminum Boats Australia has been in the works for about six months, McFearin said. Bringing the firm here has been a combined effort that involved the port, the city and Whatcom County, as well as Bellingham Technical College, the Bellingham-Whatcom Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Washington Department of Commerce and the office of Gov. Christine Gregoire, as well as local legal and accounting firms that provided the Australians with expertise on doing business here.