02:30 AM PST on Saturday, December 11, 2004
By KIMBERLY TRONE / The Press-Enterprise
Express delivery giant DHL announced plans Friday to open a cargo distribution center at March Air Reserve Base by the fall of 2005, ending months of angling by the region’s largest airports and renewing vows of opposition from area residents.
Supporters say DHL will be an economic catalyst to replace hundreds of jobs lost when March was downsized to a reserve base in 1996. “This is a really huge deal for Riverside County and the areas impacted by the base closure,” said Gregory Diodati, managing partner for the airport’s private developer, March GlobalPort, which will lease the future hub to DHL.Diodati said the contract should be sealed Wednesday when the March Joint Powers Authority is expected to approve a 16-year airport operations agreement with DHL. The proposal outlines a number of incentives including discounted fueling and landing fees.
The authority is made up of Riverside County and the cities of Moreno Valley, Perris and Riverside. Its mission is to redevelop surplus military property at March. March GlobalPort has a long-term agreement with the authority to attract private development to the airport that is also used by the military.
Move Will Mean Jobs
DHL spokesman Jonathan Baker said the cargo center is expected to employ 250 people initially and generate some $65 million in new construction and other associated costs. Economists say hundreds of other jobs that would be located near the shipping giant would generate millions more dollars to the local economy.
The hub slated for March is the eighth regional sort center to be announced as part of the German-based company’s $1.2 billion North America expansion. In its initial phase, the March operation would have eight planes a day, Baker said. Friday’s announcement by DHL ends a nearly yearlong race between March and San Bernardino International Airport to land DHL as an anchor tenant.
“Certainly it (the decision) is not what we were hoping for in San Bernardino,” said Don Rogers, interim executive director of the San Bernardino International Airport Authority. “This is bad news for our effort to bring a major cargo company to San Bernardino and a disappointment.”
Rogers said he thought that DHL is making a mistake in going to March, given the community opposition from residents of the nearby Orangecrest area who filed a lawsuit against the March Joint Powers Authority to block the project.
Foes Promise Battle
Catherine Barrett-Fischer, leader of the opposition group, said it would ramp up opposition to the DHL project by whatever legal means necessary. The group opposes the cargo port because there will be some nighttime flights. “We fear that now the area will simply become a center for low-paying, low-density, highly polluting warehouses and transportation facilities,” Barrett-Fischer said. “Our neighbors will have to continue long-distance commuting to find suitable employment in the coastal counties.” Others think otherwise.
“This will be the final step in what has been a fair and open approval process,” Rep. Ken Calvert R-Corona, said by e-mail, adding that the DHL’s presence would improve March’s survival in next year’s round of base closures.
Since DHL is not named in the lawsuit filed by Orangecrest-area residents, spokesman Baker said he could not comment on the suit. “We look forward to building positive relationships, particularly in areas where we have a company presence,” Baker said. “We will work with local officials and the local community to help ensure that happens.”
Perris Mayor Daryl Busch, vice-chairman of the March Commission, said he is confident the lawsuit against the March authority is without merit.
“(DHL) brings something very needed to the airport and will lend great support to the (Air Force) Reserves as far as costs,” Busch said. “And, of course there are the jobs and economic development it is going to bring to the community.”
One March commissioner said Friday he has lingering concerns about who will shoulder the burden if March does not survive next year’s closures. “If the reserves withdraw or reduce their flights, then the cost of operating the airport could fall completely on the (March Joint Powers Authority) and DHL,” Riverside County Supervisor Bob Buster said. “How those costs would be shared is one of my concerns.”
GlobalPort’s managing partner Diodati said the joint power authority and its local members are protected from financial liability. “We are the ones taking all the risks,” Diodati said
The March authority is poised to issue up to $35 million in tax-exempt bonds for construction of the 380,000-square-foot cargo hub. Diodati said GlobalPort might seek conventional funding instead.
Economist John Husing said the presence of DHL at March could change the competitive circumstances of the Riverside County region while not having much long-term impact on San Bernardino. “There is going to be enough for everybody and the area that really needs a competitive boost is the March (Joint Powers) area.”
Reach Kimberly Trone at (951) 368-9456 or email@example.com
Reporter Phil Pitchford contributed to this report.