Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Lehigh Valley owner inks deal to sell 234 more acres to FedEx developer

By Kurt Bresswein | For lehighvalleylive.com
Bigger things may be in store from the developer of a FedEx Ground distribution hub planned on land to be sold by the Lehigh Valley International Airport owner.

Northampton County acres planned for sale by airport authority
The Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority on April 26, 2016, entered into a sale agreement for about 234 acres in Allen and East Allen Townships to Rock-Lehigh Valley LLC, a subsidiary of The Rockefeller Group. It's adjacent to 260 acres in Allen Township being purchased by the development company for construction of a FedEx Ground distribution hub.

The Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority Board of Governors on Tuesday unanimously approved an agreement to sell about 234 acres in Northampton County to Rock-Lehigh Valley LLC, a subsidiary of the FedEx developer, The Rockefeller Group.

That's on top of the authority's $9.8 million sale to Rock-Lehigh Valley of 260 acres for the FedEx project. The long-awaited closing on the FedEx land is expected in mid-May, with the sale of the 234 acres anticipated in 2017, airport authority Executive Director Charles Everett said Tuesday.

An appraisal of the 234 acres a few years back put the value of the land at $6.86 million, at a per acre price of $38,000 for 78.7 acres in Allen Township and $25,000 for 155 acres in East Allen Township, Everett said. A new appraisal is needed, Everett said, but he expects the land to be worth at least the prior estimate. The agreement requires Rock-Lehigh Valley to pay the fair market price for the land, or it can cancel the deal, according to Everett.

The land abuts the FedEx Ground site, which is off Willowbrook Road. It has been leased out by the authority for agricultural use.

Representatives of The Rockefeller Group did not immediately respond Tuesday to requests for comment on potential plans for the 234 acres.
The Rockefeller Group subsidiary faced a deadline on Friday to buy the 234 acres, under a master agreement entered into by the authority in 2013, Everett said. Rather than extend the deadline, the two sides entered into the purchase/sale agreement approved Tuesday by the authority.

The authority now has 30 days to apply for a deed of release from the Federal Aviation Administration and Rock-Lehigh Valley has 12 months to obtain approvals needed to develop the land, Everett said.

The airport authority owns and operates three airports: Lehigh Valley International Airport in Hanover Township, Lehigh County; Queen City Airport in Allentown and Braden Airpark in Forks Township. Selling these 234 acres is projected to shore up authority finances in the long term, Everett said.

"We're very excited," he said about the sale. "That has been the long-term priority for the authority, to sell some of the surplus property so that we can satisfy our goal of being financially sustainable into the long-term future."

The authority in January, according to Everett, paid off the balance of a $26 million court judgment entered against it over the 1990s condemnation of property that was to be the Willow Brook Estates housing development.

On the FedEx land, Everett said all parties have signed a settlement agreement resolving claims by the Fuller Family Trust, owner of Willow Brook Farms, that a deed restriction barring industrial development survived the authority's condemnation of the property.

"We are waiting for a fully executed copy," he said Tuesday. "We are pushing for closing in the middle of May."

A representative of the Fuller Family Trust did not immediately return a call for comment Tuesday afternoon.

FedEx had been wooed by Majestic Realty and Bethlehem officials to locate its ground hub in a 981,321-square-foot warehouse and distribution facility approved by city officials along Commerce Center Boulevard, off Route 412, in the city.

The Allen Township site remains the preferred location of FedEx Ground for the $335 million facility, spokesman David Westrick said Tuesday.

"We are continuing to work with everyone we need to," he said. "We want to expedite remaining approvals and hopefully begin breaking ground in the spring."

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