Lehigh Valley

Airport authority urges support for new FedEx hub

Also learns how winter has hurt LVIA revenues

HANOVER TWP., Lehigh County, Pa. -  The Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority urged the Allen Township Planning Commission and the Allen Township Board of Supervisors to approve proposed plans for a Lehigh Valley FedEx ground hub.

The authority passed a formal resolution Tuesday urging the two Allen Township municipal bodies to fully support construction of the proposed regional FedEx transportation hub.

FedEx is currently in talks with Allen Township and Northampton County officials to potentially build a massive packaging and distribution center featuring between one million and two million square feet of warehouse space on 253 acres of land currently owned by the airport authority.

The airport has entered into a master development plan with The Rockefeller Group of New York, according to the resolution.

The asking price for the land is $9.6 million. The money would help pay down the airport's massive debt. The authority is selling several parcels of adjacent land to help pay a $26 million court judgment.

"We want to make sure that Allen Township and all of the Lehigh Valley is aware that a regional transportation hub is good for everyone," said Charles Everett,  airport executive director.

"The Board of Governors thought it was important that they publicly support the project. It will help us more financially and the board wanted to emphasize that it's a good thing for us."

The proposed FedEx hub could create as many as 1,191 "family sustaining" local jobs according to the resolution. It would also generate a healthy tax base for Allen Township.

More than $25 million in privately-funded road improvements are planned for Willowbrook Road, Race Street and Airport Road as part of the project.

The resolution stated that the project would bring long-term financial sustainability to the airport.

Everett said he understands the vociferous opposition already heard from Allen Township residents at January meetings of the Allen township planning commission and the board of supervisors.

"We understand that people want to live in a rural township. We understand their position and we want to be a good neighbor. But the (Allen Township) comprehensive plan and zoning regulations both support this," Everett said.

The land in question is zoned industrial and lies in the vicinity of Wayne Grube Park, Catasauqua High School, the airport's control tower and a retirement community on W. Bullshead Road.

In January, residents told planners and supervisors of their concerns about 5,000 truck trips per day, tens of thousands of vehicles on township roads and possible lower property values throughout Allen Township.

Other residents told supervisors last month that they believe FedEx will receive significant tax breaks for building the mega-hub in Allen Township.

Everett said The Rockefeller Group has an option on another 280 acres close to the planned project.

He added that talks with Lehigh Valley Industrial Park are continuing concerning the sale of an additional 298 acres of property adjoining the airport in Hanover Township.

Everett said the land value has been appraised, but negotiations with LVIP are ongoing.

"There's a process with the federal government that we have go through," he said. "If all goes well, we could see a sale by the end of the year."

Board member and Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski warned that the airport "shouldn't shoot itself in the foot," by selling all of the acreage adjacent to the airport.

Everett said there are a "couple of hundred" acres of airport land remaining and that lease deals are welcome.

"Our first priority is to eliminate the judgment," he said. "There is surplus property that we're open to lease agreements on to generate more recurring revenue."

Weather hurts bottom line

Mother Nature's winter wrath of snowstorms conspired to hurt the airport's bottom line in January.

Treasurer William Berger said loss of revenue from storms, which included lost parking fees, cancellation of flights, contracted snow removal and overtime costs conspired to put the airport off its revenue calculations by $140,000 of its $20 million budget.

"None of this is a surprise," Berger said.

Income from airport operations was off 45 percent in January, according to Berger.

"The budget may be more aggressive than we thought and after the first quarter, we may have to see what to do with it," Berger said.

Board member and former treasurer Dean Browning suggested that February's numbers won't be much better.

"At what point do we take corrective action, so we can meet our debt obligations?" Browning said.

Everett countered that it was too early in the year to understand what is happening with the budget and that the board should make corrective action on the budget after the first quarter.

Vice-chairman Robert Buesing praised airport personnel for keeping LVIA open during the snowstorm of Feb. 12-13.

"Philadelphia (International Airport) cancelled hundreds of flights," Beusing said. "I know a lot of people who were happy that (LVIA) was open, so that we could get them out of here."

Everett said 60 LVIA flights were canceled during the Feb. 12-13 snowstorm, which dropped nearly 19 inches on the airport.

In other business, the board voted to pay its scheduled 2014 judgment of $5 million to Willowbrook Farms in 10 monthly $500,000 installments.

Installment payments, instead of one bulk payment in November, will save the authority $2,500 per month in interest, according to solicitor Robert Donchez.

According to the legal settlement's payment schedule, the authority must pay $5 million this year and $6 million in 2015. It paid $3 million last year and $2 million in 2012.

Air show possible this year

Everett said the success of last year's Lehigh Valley Air Show has prompted the authority to weigh holding another event this year, instead of waiting until 2015.

"There was a lot excitement in the community about it last year and we're looking at doing another one in 2014. We'll shoot for the same (late August) weekend as last year. We have enough time to get it together," Everett said.

Last year's two-day event at LVIA in late August netted the authority a profit of $58,000.

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