FedEx considers new location at Sparrows Point

FedEx starts process to build distribution center at former Sparrows Point steel mill.

FedEx is eyeing the former Sparrows Point steel mill in southeastern Baltimore County for a new distribution hub.

The package delivery company could become the first new tenant on the large property since the steel mill closed in 2012, if it can reach a deal with the developer that bought the land in September.

Baltimore County documents show FedEx is applying to build a warehouse on a 43.45-acre property at 2001 Wharf Road in Sparrows Point, one of the addresses for the former steel mill that's now owned by Sparrows Point Terminal LLC.

Baltimore County's Development Review Committee will meet Tuesday to consider the "FedEx Distribution Hub Sparrows Point," an early step in the county's development process.

A spokesman for FedEx declined to comment on the company's plans for Sparrows Point.

"FedEx continually evaluates the need for additional facilities and routinely talks with real estate agents, developers and government officials," FedEx's Scott Fiedler said. "As a matter of policy, FedEx does not publicly discuss specifics of a project until all details have been finalized."

County Councilman Todd Crandell, a Republican who represents Sparrows Point, confirmed that FedEx is considering the property, although he said no deal has been finalized.

"FedEx is exploring the opportunity, and I think part of their due diligence is to check on a lot of different things, including development options at the property," Crandell said. "I think that we should be excited that companies like FedEx are looking to come to the area, but I'm not aware of any deal that's been signed."

Fronda Cohen, an economic development spokeswoman for the county, said Sparrows Point would be a good fit for a shipping company, given its industrial zoning and easy access to highways, including the Baltimore Beltway.

"There really has not been any agreement between Sparrows Point Terminal and FedEx, but we're really pleased that a world-renowned company like FedEx is doing its due diligence and looking at Sparrows Point," she said.

Officials with Sparrows Point Terminal LLC, which bought the steel mill property for $110 million in September, have been tight-lipped about who might be coming to the 3,100-acre property. Both company CEO Dixon Betz and Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz have hinted that nationally known companies have been in negotiations, but they have declined to name them publicly.

"Sparrows Point Terminal is receiving tremendous interest from national, regional and local companies that see great potential in our location," said Howard Libit, a spokesman for Sparrows Point Terminal LLC, in a statement Monday in response to questions about FedEx. "The filing with Baltimore County is a good indication of this demand. We look forward to announcing agreements when they are finalized."

At Tuesday's Development Review Committee meeting, representatives from county agencies will review preliminary plans and decide whether the project can apply for building permits right away or must go through a more detailed review process.

FedEx is building a number of distribution centers in other cities around the country, including Hampton, Va.; Oceanside, Calif.; Davenport, Fla.; New Castle, Del.; Fort Worth, Texas; Colorado Springs, Colo.; and Jackson Township near Pittsburgh, according to local news reports. They generally range in size from about 200,000 square feet to 300,000 square feet and employ 100 to 1,000 workers.

Sparrows Point Terminal is financially backed by Redwood Capital Investments LLC, a local investment firm associated with entrepreneur Jim Davis, who founded the staffing firm Aerotek with his cousin, Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti. The company agreed to spend up to $48 million on an environmental cleanup of the property, plus give $3 million to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to investigate possible contamination in the waters surrounding the property.

Steel was produced at Sparrows Point for more than 100 years, mostly under the ownership of Bethlehem Steel. After a series of ownership changes, the mill closed for good in 2012 when its then-owner, RG Steel, filed for bankruptcy. At the time, the mill employed about 2,000 workers, just a fraction of the tens of thousands who worked there during its heyday.

Sparrows Point Terminal has been demolishing most of the structures on the property to clear the land for redevelopment into an industrial campus with tenants in the transportation, manufacturing and logistics industries. The port of Baltimore has expressed interest in using part of the property as well.

The owners and economic development officials have promoted the property's vast size, industrial zoning and access to water, highways, rail lines and the port.

The largest and most complex structure to be taken down is the 320-foot-tall L Blast Furnace, which will be imploded this winter. Sparrows Point Terminal officials initially planned to have the furnace imploded this month, but the contractor handling the implosion, Controlled Demolition Inc., said January is more likely.

While demolition and cleanup continue, Sparrows Point Terminal plans to reuse some of the newer buildings that are in good shape, such as the cold rolling mill. There also are existing tenants on the property, including cement company Lafarge North America.

pwood@baltsun.com

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