DHL Express on Jan. 19 will formally transfer ownership of its former U.S. air and ground package hub in Wilmington, Ohio, to a governmental body formed by the county where Wilmington is located, DHL and the county said today.
Under the agreement, to be announced at a press conference tomorrow, DHL will turn over the Wilmington Air Park—which with 2,200 acres is the largest privately owned airport in the nation—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.
The ownership transfer concludes nearly a year of negotiations that began shortly after DHL officially ended all domestic U.S. operations last Jan. 30. The company, which today serves the United States only as part of its international services, subsequently moved its U.S. operations to Cincinnati, about 40 miles away.
The deal, which one well-placed source said was originally expected to close by Christmas day, had been delayed as both sides ironed out details of the complex transaction, which involved 1,600 parcels of land in and around the air park.
In early 2009, 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.
An executive close to the project 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 air park 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 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 in an interview two weeks ago. "To put the level of investment that DHL did and then walk away is just staggering."
The source said at the time that it was 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.