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Published: Friday, 4/26/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

Airgas Inc. buys 7.2-acre factory site of former Jeep plant

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The former Jeep factory site in central Toledo, where automobiles were built for nearly 100 years, soon will be home to a new type of business.

Civic leaders hail a deal with a nationwide manufacturer and distributor of gases as a major step in developing the empty Overland Industrial Park.

“This really is a great fit. This is a great first foundational piece,” said Matt Sapara, the chief operating officer for the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority.

He said the port authority and Airgas Inc. had discussed site possibilities for the business for about three years, before the agency bought the 111-acre factory site for $95,000 from a Chrysler Corp. asset-liquidation company in October, 2010.

The agency's board of directors on Thursday approved a lease-purchase agreement with Airgas for 7.2 acres where the Radnor, Pa., company plans a 40,000-square-foot facility.

In a port authority staff report to the board, Airgas is “consolidating its operations in northern Ohio and southeastern Michigan” at the new building, where about 25 people will be employed.

“Toledo is very central for us,” Aaron Remy, an Airgas representative, told the port board before its 8-0 vote to approve the transaction.

Airgas processes and distributes oxygen, acetylene, helium, nitrous oxide, and other gases used for industrial, medical, or other purposes, as well as dry ice, welding equipment, tools, safety equipment, and related products.

Mr. Sapara said the spot Airgas will use, on the southwest corner, is perfect because it’s not big enough for larger warehouse or light-industrial operations that the port authority hopes to obtain on the Overland site. Construction is expected to start this summer and be finished early next year.

Overland Industrial Park site concepts show a row of buildings along the property's eastern edge with a combined floor space of nearly 1 million square feet.

Automobile construction on the site ended in 2006, when DaimlerChrysler moved operations to the Toledo Assembly complex on Stickney Avenue.

During the nearly century-long period, about 11 million vehicles rolled off the assembly lines, including Overlands, military Jeeps, and lastly Jeep Cherokees. Chrysler razed the buildings in 2007.

After the port authority purchased the land, it cleaned polluted soil and removed concrete foundations to prepare the site for the proposed 900,000-square-foot industrial complex. The agency spent about $2.8 million, paid for with state and federal grants.

The port authority had announced plans to build a 100,000-square-foot warehouse in the area, on a speculative basis, to jump-start Overland’s redevelopment. Holly Kemler, a port spokesman, said that warehouse is still planned.

With access to I-75 and a major railroad line, the former Jeep site is “one of the finest pieces of redevelopment acreage in the state of Ohio,” port board director Jerry Chabler said.

According to the staff report, Airgas wants to buy the site, but because the Voluntary Action Program for the environmental cleanup has not been finalized, the port authority cannot sell any land yet.

Instead, the deal provides for a lease-purchase under which Airgas will pay $2,640 per month in rent, starting in July, until the action program is completed, at which time the company will pay $316,800 for the property.

Should the action program not be completed by the end of next year, the transaction converts to a 10-year lease, plus two five-year options, with a $2,244 monthly rent for the initial period and $1 a year for the option years. The lease payments in that scenario total $316,810.

On March 28, the port authority awarded a $1.2 million contract to Miller Brothers Construction of Archbold to build a roadway and install utilities into the southern part of the site.

Besides approving the Airgas deal, the port board appropriated up to $60,000 for the Ohio Department of Transportation to oversee the road and utilities project.

The board also approved a 10-year development agreement with the Harmon Family Development Corp. to manage the rest of Overland’s redevelopment.

Harmon will be paid to handle snow management and lawn care and to ensure buildings comply with architecture-control standards for the site.

It also will receive finder’s fees for prospective tenants it delivers to the port authority or assists in attracting to the site.

The Airgas deal also includes brokerage fees and a 1 percent developer fee for Harmon based on the assessed value of the Airgas facility.

Contact David Patch at: dpatch@theblade.com, or 419-724-6094.



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