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Published: Friday, 1/23/2004

Port stretches out deadline for warehouse plan

For nearly four years, it has been a source of angst for the public officials who oversee Toledo Express Airport.

A developer said he d build a mega-warehouse facility that could bring 500 jobs, and in return his firm was given first option on the land. But the airport s overseers became increasingly skeptical as the years passed, and they demanded a timetable, set to expire this month.

Nothing has been built. Yet, the airport officials are increasingly optimistic that, given more time, the project will fly. And in the process, it could provide the area a sustainable economic foothold in the emerging global marketplace.

Those overseers - members of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority s board of directors - agreed unanimously yesterday to extend the timetable for up to a year for developer David Hall to complete construction of the first warehouse.

“He has some leads, and with the economy breaking out, do we think we can get something done? The answer is yes. That was enough to get us over the hump,” said the airport committee chairman, G. Opie Rollison, who has pushed for the deadlines.

The project - first proposed in January, 1999 - was presented as a mega-warehouse facility with a specialty in importing fruit, flowers, and fish from South America.

Developers and port authority officials thought they had a great idea because Toledo was centrally located for imported perishable products.

Port authority officials said construction would begin in April, 2000. But, with trouble finding products to fill the planes on return trips, the project stalled, frustrating port authority members.

In January, 2002, an agreement was reached between the port authority and Mr. Hall s suburban Cleveland firm, Ohio International Developers, Ltd. Mr. Hall was given a host of specific tasks to be completed within two years, from getting the land rezoned to building a warehouse of at least 200,000 square feet.

Most of the tasks have been completed, but the warehouse has yet to be built. Port authority board members said yesterday they have some sympathy for Mr. Hall because he has been trying to start the project in a poor economy.

To Mr. Hall, the emerging global marketplace means that cost-conscious American automakers must import more of their parts from countries like China, and that will require a centrally located place with plenty of access from which to distribute them across the country.

Enter Toledo Express Airport. It s near major highways, a busy rail line, and a Great Lakes port. In addition, Mr. Hall said, there is no city in America that can reach more industry within a 300-mile radius than Toledo.

“I haven t spent hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, traveling all over world to make it happen, because I think it s pie in the sky,” Mr. Hall said.

He has a supporter in airport director Paul Toth, who believes the industrial park could end up employing 800.

“While we continue to lose jobs in our region from manufacturing [being out-sourced], we ve got an opportunity to take advantage and build some jobs in value-added manufacturing, warehousing, and distribution,” Mr. Toth said.

Agency president James Hartung told the board that, if the latest extension expires with no progress, “all bets are off.”

In other business, the board:

w Agreed to be a middleman for a $500,000 loan between the Lucas County commissioners and U.S. Coking Group.

The company is considering building a plant on the Toledo-Oregon line that would employ up to 350 people to produce a key ingredient for the steel industry.

w Awarded the first-annual George P. Ballas Distinguished Humanitarian Award to his widow, Marianne Ballas.

Mr. Ballas, a local car dealer, served on the board from 1998 until his death from an aortic aneurysm in December, 2002.



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