Memphis Airport, FedEx Discuss New 30-Year Lease

Rent will be tied to increases in the Consumer Price Index or 13 percent price hikes every five years.

The airport authority today is expected to approve the first major lease for FedEx Corp. facilities off Democrat since the company moved here more than 30 years ago.

Rent in the 30-year lease - with options to extend it through 2058 - will be tied to increases in the Consumer Price Index or 13 percent price hikes every five years.

FedEx will have the option of paying whichever is smaller.

"What we are doing is recognizing the value of the airport to the community and providing a pathway that allows FedEx to continue to be an extremely valuable economic contributor to Memphis and to grow in the future," said Scott Brockman, finance director for the Memphis-Shelby Airport Authority.

"We all know the CPI won't rise with ruthless abandon. This way, FedEx can predict their rentals and we can predict our revenue flow," he said.

FedEx Corp. would not provide information until it has a fully executed lease, which Brockman expects will be in late January.

In 2006, FedEx paid approximately $7 million or an average of 24 cents a square foot in rent to the airport authority, half of what it made from its public and employee parking lots, which generated nearly $14 million in revenue this year, according to the authority's annual report.

The new deal includes no rent increases until July 2008, when some pieces of the nearly 29 million square feet of space that FedEx leases from the airport will be subject to a one-time 15 to 25 percent increase.

In 2013, rent on most of the parcels will increase either 13 percent or the difference in the Consumer Price Index from 2008 to 2013.

In the last five years, the CPI has risen 13.1 or an average of 2.6 percent a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"That is fairly modest compared to the statistical standard. The reason is because we've had low inflation since 1992," said spokesman Steve Reed.

By giving FedEx the option to take the lesser of the two increases, experts say the airport authority is doing what it can to ensure the company's future in Memphis.

"Intuitively, it sounds like Memphis has decided that the engine of its economic development is FedEx. The airport is not necessarily looking to maximize what it can take out of FedEx, but rather to take advantage of what FedEx brings to Memphis," said Mike Webber, president of Webber Air Cargo in Kansas City.

"I don't believe any single force has shaped Memphis post-'70s more than FedEx. I think the locals do well to err on side of caution to take care of their crown jewel."

Based on a study completed in 2004 by the University of Memphis, Memphis International Airport contributes more than $21 billion a year to the region's economic development. More than $19 billion comes from air cargo operations.

While DHL and UPS also have a presence at the airport, FedEx controls more than 90 percent of the cargo market .

"Airports have traditionally used used CPI as a measure," said Dick Marchi at the Airports Council International-North America.

"But because airfield construction costs have been inflating at higher than CPI rates at most airports for some years, people have been looking for alternatives."

In general, FedEx's new rates will range from 19 to 24 cents per square foot, depending upon improvements on the land and who paid for them.

"The rate is about average. Some companies pay more, some pay less," Brockman said.

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