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Port leader: Fish or cut bait on warehouse


`I think it's time to say ... we need an answer,' chairman Pat Nicholson, right, tells the port authority board of directors.


The chairman of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority board of directors has a message for a developer who for two years has vowed to build a mega-warehouse facility at Toledo Express Airport:

Do it or drop out.

At a board meeting yesterday, chairman Pat Nicholson insisted that developer David Hall, of suburban Cleveland, must finalize plans to build the facility, which is expected to create 500 jobs and be the linchpin of further development of air cargo jobs in Toledo.

“I think it's time to say to David Hall, on the perishable goods, that we need an answer,” Mr. Nicholson told fellow board members, who oversee the airport.

Mr. Hall countered that he has spent about $250,000 on the project, and he can't offer a specific timetable for what he said is a complicated deal.

“We're doing the best we can, we're doing it as fast as we can, and we're doing it as thoroughly as we can,” he said. “It's unfortunate that [the port board is] in this posture.”

The $20 million project centers on the importation of fruit, flowers, and fish from South America and Africa to a partly refrigerated set of warehouses at Toledo Express.

It would be the first development of its kind in the central United States, which developers and port authority administrators agree has made it harder to plan.

Unrest in Zimbabwe caused two investors to temporarily pull out of the deal last summer. At the same time, it took until late August, 2000, to get required environmental permits for the project. Then, last fall, port officials had to scramble for federal aid to help build an $8 million apron, or airplane parking lot, for the project.

Governor Taft got into the act last month. He pushed the project during a trade mission to South America.

Mr. Hall and Ralph Hannon, the port authority's director of new projects, said the biggest hang-up is ensuring that the planes will have enough cargo to carry back to Africa and South America.

“You can't afford to fly planes one-way empty,” Mr. Hannon said. “The flowers don't pay for it.”

BAX Global, an air cargo company based at Toledo Express, is compiling estimates for cargo it could direct on return flights. Mr. Hannon said those figures are expected to be completed next month, but BAX likely won't be able to fill the planes.

Mr. Hall said he must know that he can substantially fill the planes' return flights, so he has to find other shippers besides BAX. And he's not sure when he'll gather enough shippers to alleviate that concern.

“It depends on the mix and the type of freight. It's very complicated,” he said.

It's the latest development for a project billed with heavy promise more than two years ago.

In January, 1999, after months of informal talks, Mr. Hall's firm - International Developers of Hudson, Ohio - signed a pact with the port authority pledging to pursue the project.

It called for International Developers to pay Toledo Express $85,000 an acre for about 20 acres, with an option to buy 130 acres as the development grows. The firm also was supposed to pay $10,000 in upfront money once the project was set for development.

But that money has never been paid, and groundbreaking dates kept being moved back.

Construction was to begin in April, 2000, then November, 2000, then early spring, 2001. Now, Mr. Hall is not offering a timetable.

“I'm not going to tell anybody something that I can't deliver on,” he said, the same sentiment he offered last year.

But port board members are becoming increasingly less receptive to that answer, and they are beginning to wonder if there are other developers who could build such a facility.

In other business, the board:

w Decided to take a month to negotiate with Wolf Creek Development Corp. on a fair purchase price for nine acres Wolf Creek owns on the northwest corner of I-475 and Salisbury Road.

The agency wants the land to build a freeway interchange for better access to Toledo Express and had considered asking the court to set the price. The port is willing to spend $551,220; Wolf Creek insists the property is worth at least three times that.

w Agreed to give V/Gladieux Enterprises the airport food and merchandise concessions contract, but not before a heated exchange between Mr. Nicholson and board member Jerry Chabler.

Mr. Nicholson accused Mr. Chabler of showing up uninvited at a negotiating session between airport and company officials, which Mr. Nicholson said was unethical. Mr. Chabler countered that he was invited by both parties - a point confirmed by airport Director Paul Toth. Mr. Nicholson backed off his criticism.

w Approved a measure to force agency President James Hartung to first consult with the board's human resources committee before hiring a senior staff member.

In such cases, the committee offers its recommendations to the full board, which ultimately decides who gets hired.

Mr. Hartung was neutral on the measure. Board member G. Ray Medlin, Jr., said he initially was concerned the measure would conflict with language in Mr. Hartung's employment contract, but he still voted for the measure.

w Approved four financing deals for Total Foods, Inc., of Toledo; Hammill, L.L.C., of Toledo; Cargotec, Inc., of Perrysburg; and Accutech Films, Inc., of Coldwater, Ohio.

The four deals, a record for one month, are part of a program that uses port authority revenue bonds to arrange low-interest loans for expanding area firms.

w Heard the Navy plans to give the port authority Alexis Road property it leases to Teledyne Continental Motors Turbine Engine Unit, a 200-employee parts factory for U.S. defense systems.

The port authority plans to lease the property back to Teledyne for far less rent than it paid to the Navy, so Teledyne can keep or add jobs. The monthly lease amount hasn't been determined.

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