The Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority on March 2 approved a tentative deal that would pave the way for FedEx Ground to build a $335 million package-sorting plant in Allen Township.
Under an agreement the authority approved during a special meeting, the owners of Willow Brook Farms would remove a deed restriction that forbids industrial development on airport land in exchange for cash and other considerations during construction.
The deal still needs the signatures of New York developers The Rockefeller Group and the Fuller Family Trust. Should that happen, it will end months of negotiations that have delayed the sale of 260 acres of airport land along Willowbrook Road for the FedEx project.
"Now, hopefully, the agreement can be signed and we can schedule a closing date for the land sale," said Charles Everett Jr., authority executive director. "This was the last major hurdle holding up the sale."
Terms of the deal were not released. Any cash that changes hands likely will be between Rockefeller and the Fuller Family Trust and not involve the airport, Everett said.
Rockefeller has spent nearly three years planning the more than 1 million-square-foot distribution center that could eventually employ 2,500 people. But just as the authority was about to close its $9.9 million land deal with developers, attorneys realized that the property had a deed restriction dating to 1990, before Willow Brook Farms sold it for a golf course that was never built.
Negotiations over the deed restriction went on for so long that Rockefeller filed plans last month for a backup site in south Bethlehem.
Glenn Geissinger, a Northampton County councilman on the authority's executive board, credited solicitor Robert Freedberg, a retired Commonwealth Court judge, with getting all sides to sit down and re-evaluate what was at stake with the project. Once everyone was at the table, they were able to reach an agreement that should put the outstanding issues to rest. Like Everett, Geissinger declined to discuss the terms of the deal.
"We've been waiting for someone to get in there. I think Judge Freedberg's personal involvement has been a great boon to get everything resolved," Geissinger said.
Fuller Family Trust lead trustee Christopher Lloyd said he has not signed the deal, but expects to soon.
No settlement date has been set for the land sale, but Bethlehem officials have not given up hope that FedEx still will choose to build a 981,000-square-foot facility it filed plans for at the Majestic Center, a park of large-scale warehousing in some of the more remote parts of the former Bethlehem Steel plant.