DHL and Clinton County, Ohio, are very close to a deal that calls for DHL to donate to the county the massive air logistics park in Wilmington, Ohio, where the company's U.S. air and surface freight operations once were housed.
The deal, which one well-placed source said was originally expected to close by Dec. 15 and then by Christmas day at the latest, has been delayed as both sides iron out details of the complex transaction, which involves the transfer of the equivalent of 1,600 parcels of land in and around the air park. The facility sits on 2,200 acres and is the largest privately owned airport in the country.
The discussions, which have been ongoing for many months, are expected to culminate in DHL's turning over the air park to the Clinton County Port Authority, a body established in 2004 to facilitate economic development in the region. Port authorities in Ohio can provide low-cost, tax-advantaged funds to finance construction and improvement of private business facilities as a means of job creation.
In a Jan. 5 statement, the "Economic Task Force for the DHL Hub in Wilmington," a public-private sector group, said talks "continue to be constructive" but declined to discuss specifics, citing confidentiality issues. DHL, for its part, has made similar comments but has also refused to discuss details.
Earlier this year, the state, county, and city solicited so-called "Requests for Information" to explore redevelopment alternatives for the air park. Of the 13 responses received, the three highest-rated came from developer Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL), airport planners Landrum & Brown and Aeroterm, and a four-member consortium that included real estate giant CB Richard Ellis. JLL and Landrum are very active in the logistics property field.
The source, who has been close to the negotiations, said the air park is best suited as a transport logistics operation and that bidders have identified several "potential users" who could bring in sufficient freight volumes to make it viable. The site is within a day's drive of 60 percent of the U.S. population and is located in a city with competent workers experienced in managing transport operations.
The air park, which originally belonged to the former Airborne Express, was absorbed by DHL when it bought Airborne in 2003. DHL subsequently invested hundreds of millions of dollars to upgrade the facility before abandoning it in 2009 in favor of nearby Cincinnati. DHL ended all domestic U.S. air and ground service on Jan. 30, 2009.
The decisions to shutter domestic service and abandon the air park threw thousands of Wilmington residents out of work. The city, nestled in southwestern Ohio, has a population of about 12,000.
The source said it would cost more than $1 billion to re-create the air park in its current form. "There is no available facility that I know of that has the capacity and infrastructure to handle shipping volumes that this one does," the source said. "To put the level of investment that DHL did and then walk away is just staggering."
The source said it is critical that a deal be finalized as soon as possible so as to stem the exodus of residents who might relocate to other cities in Ohio or elsewhere throughout the country in search of work.