A Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority board member's resignation cleared the way yesterday for an agreement to bring a cold-storage facility and roses from Ecuador to Toledo Express Airport.
Thomas Schlachter, chairman of the board's finance committee, said he verbally gave his resignation Wednesday because he is involved as an investor with Global Perishable Exchange and Express, or Glopexx. The firm plans to start flying Ecuadorian roses into Toledo Express and keep them in cold storage at the airport before they enter distribution.
Mr. Schlacter said he decided to become personally involved in the project and resign his port board seat because he was worried the concept of having a cold-storage facility at Toledo Express - which has been discussed for years - would fail unless he invested in it.
Mr. Schlachter said he spoke to no other board members about the project before port directors voted 12-0 yesterday to approve spending $625,000 to convert part of the Cargo Building at Toledo Express into refrigerated storage. The facility, located next to the passenger terminal at the end of the main entrance road off Airport Highway, will be leased to Glopexx for $8,000 per month.
The firm also will pay the port authority $1.5 million up front for a 10-year option to lease 20 acres on the opposite side of the airfield for future development.
"It was just time for a few local boys to get on board," Mr. Schlachter said. He declined to describe his personal investment in any more detail other than "a significant amount."
The port authority will finance the Cargo Building remodeling with a $500,000 state loan and $125,000 to be drawn from the agency's tax levy. It will set aside the $1.5 million Glopexx option payment as a revenue guarantee for the proposed cargo flights that would haul roses from Quito, Ecuador, to Toledo, then take other cargoes to Frankfurt, Germany, and from Europe to South America.
"This is the cargo equivalent of guaranteeing the revenue for new passenger service," James Hartung, the port authority's president, told the port directors before their vote.
Miami International Airport currently dominates the South American perishable imports trade into the U.S. But Paul Toth, the port authority's airport director, said there have long been rumblings about shifting that trade to the Midwest, which is closer to a greater number of population centers and thus offers shorter delivery times.
"It's the first person in who's going to get the jump on this deal," Mr. Toth said.
If the Glopexx concept flops, he said, the cold-storage capability at the airport could still meet the refrigerated warehousing needs of others.
"It's a marketable asset," port board member Dennis Duffey agreed. "McDonald's needs places to store hamburgers. Supermarket chains look for facilities like this."
But if Glopexx succeeds, Mr. Toth said, it will establish Toledo's credibility as a viable place for importing perishables for distribution throughout northeastern North America. Ecuadorian roses could be followed by other flowers and perishable products from all over South America, he said.
The project has reached the stage of needing facility improvements, he said, because without a committed cold-storage site, the flower wholesalers, airlines, freight forwarders, and others with whom the project has been discussed won't commit to it.
Along with Mr. Schlachter, other top investors in Glopexx include Ed Nagle, whose family owns a Lake Township-based trucking company that specializes in refrigerated cargo, and local insurance group owner Pat Hylant and Don Mewhort, a title company executive.
The space to be leased by Glopexx is about 6,000 square feet, of which about 4,400 square feet are to be refrigerated. That's barely 1 percent the size of a 400,000-square-foot cold-storage warehouse that Ohio International Developers of Streetsboro, Ohio, proposed during the mid-1990s to handle fish, fruit, and flower imports from Africa.
In other business, the port authority board approved spending $200,000 on infrastructure improvements as part of an agreement with EJS Properties, Inc., to lease five acres at the airport entrance on Airport Highway for a new hotel.
Mr. Toth said the firm plans to build a Hilton Garden Inn on the site and the agreement requires EJS to maintain a "national flag operation" there. Infrastructure money will come from a state development grant program.
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