Friday, November 5, 2004
Turbulence south of airport
Vineyard owner at odds with ONT over air cargo plans
By BRENDA GAZZAR
The San Bernardino County (CA) Sun
ONTARIO – Paul Hofer III and his family’s vineyards have long found ways to coexist with the growth of Ontario International Airport just north of his property. But now, the 56-year-old farmer and Ontario International each have their own plans for air cargo depots, pitting the two against each other as potential competitors for the first time.
Los Angeles World Airports announced in the summer, much to Hofer’s surprise, that Ontario International expansion plans might include an airport terminal on his property. And Los Angeles World Airways officials say they have no intention of affording Hofer runway access for his planned 105-acre air cargo project.
“David and Goliath,’ Hofer said recently at an Ontario coffee house, characterizing his relationship with the Ontario airport’s owner and operator. “And guess who won that one?’
Airport officials say they have been a good neighbor to Hofer, even attending a recent gathering on his property, but of course, they say, business comes first.
Los Angeles World Airports “is not a big monolithic monster that wants to squash small competition,’ said Ontario International spokeswoman Maria Tesoro-Fermin. “It is solely interested in its own business interests and protecting its assets.’
Los Angeles World Airports announced in summer 2002 that it had selected Maryland-based developer Aeroterm to build a 110-acre international air cargo depot valued at about $140million on the northwest side of the Ontario airport.
Hofer announced later that year that he was partnering with a Dallas-based real-estate development firm, Hillwood, to build industrial and cargo-related centers on 105 acres of his property.
Both have said they are very much interested in having the shipping company DHL on their site. DHL is considering several California airports for a West Coast distribution center, including San Bernardino International Airport and March Air Reserve Base near Riverside. An announcement is expected within the month.
Los Angeles World Airport officials have said they do not plan on affording Hofer runway access for his project.
“Why would he have runway access, why should he?’ Tesoro-Fermin said Thursday. “Why would (Los Angeles World Airports) give him runway access when we have a cargo complex already in the pipeline? We have the right to decide what is best for our interests, just like he has the right to express his grievances.’
Steven R. Forrer, an Aeroterm executive vice president, said he does not consider Hofer to be a direct competitor because the Aeroterm project has an existing aircraft parking area for planes to load and unload cargo while Hofer’s land does not.
Hofer says he believes his project with Hillwood, which would be built with private funds, is something that would benefit the entire community, including the airport. Just as UPS, with a West Coast hub in Ontario, has access to the airport’s runway, Hofer says he would like to have the same.
There is enough air cargo demand to satisfy both projects, he said.
In addition, Hofer says that Los Angeles World Airport’s option to build a south-side terminal on his property, though considered unlikely by Ontario officials, could be a tactic to interfere with his plans to secure tenants.
“There would be a hell of a lot of (other) options that you could come up with,’ Hofer said. “Los Angeles World Airports is a big entity with a big budget, and they put this damn thing (on his property). That is something you take seriously. … It’s an incredible stalling tactic.’
Airport officials, who have acknowledged it makes less sense to have a south-side terminal, say they are required by federal law to consider other options for airport expansion.
Although they acknowledge that the Ontario airport has enough land of its own for a south-side terminal, they say they are relying on expert planners they have hired to come up with the best possible plans and alternatives for expansion, Tesoro-Fermin said.
“There’s a lot of things involved with master planning,’ she said.
Hofer said his family has long been at odds with the airport, dating back to the 1950s when the airport, owned by Ontario at the time, condemned a couple of hundred acres of his property. His family was in court for seven years to fight over the price, he said, and ultimately prevailed.P
“We planted (palm) trees to the north of my grandmother’s house so she wouldn’t have to look at the airplanes driving across our land,’ Hofer said.
Meanwhile, Hofer, whose family settled on the land in the 1880s, says he and his developer are moving forward with their plans for an air cargo project by securing entitlements.
“Everything we are doing is to enable our family to keep that land and build something that will take care of them for the next generation,’ Hofer said. “That is our goal.’