Under the agreement, Centurion assigned the lease to Aeroterm, a specialist in airport-terminal development, which designed and built the $130 million facility. Aeroterm and Bristol Group Inc., a San Francisco-based real estate investment and development firm, put up the money for the project. Centurion, in turn, is leasing it back from Aeroterm, which has done other projects at MIA, including developing the FedEx and LAN facilities.
A blizzard of obstacles, including the recession and delays in removing tenants from the space, stalled the start of the project, which finally broke ground in November 2011. Stiles Construction built the facility.
An old metal-plating shop located on the site was heavily contaminated and proved to be a major environmental challenge, costing several million dollars to resolve.
“Neither we nor the airport knew there was such a level of contaminants,” said Erin Gruver, executive vice president of Aeroterm, who oversaw the project. “There were sub-surface contaminants. The walls, the slab, were all saturated.”
To work around the cleanup, workers erected the eastern and western ends of the new facility first, moving toward the middle, where the contaminated facility was located. The structure was decontaminated and gingerly dismantled. Debris was sent to special, lined landfills, Gruver said.
The new facility includes 159,684 square feet of refrigerated storage space — which Aeroterm says is the largest airport cooler in North America. It’s designed to handle a growing flow of flowers, fruits and vegetables, and fish imported from Latin America. To the east of the cooler is a giant general cargo facility; to its west side, 100,000 square feet of office space. Further west lies a newly refurbished 300,000-square-foot hangar.
Centurion, which historically has outsourced its aircraft maintenance, is transitioning to bring that work in house, a move that should generate between 300 and 600 new jobs over the next three years, Rey said. Though its fleet is comprised of older jets, Rey said it is the best suited for the job.
The new warehouse facility, which automates many functions that previously required manpower, is expected to boost Centurion’s competitiveness in handling perishables along the “cold chain,’’ where time and temperature control are crucial.
“It’s a world-class airport facility,” said Ian Morgan, who joined Centurion as president in February. “It raises the bar in Miami in what can be expected for handling perishables.”
The new building opens on the south to a sprawling air ramp area, where cargo is moved to and from planes. On the north, or landside, of the warehouse are loading ramps for some 90 tractor-trailer trucks. Aeroterm said consolidating operations under one roof will save trucks an estimated 35,000 miles a year.
“Centurion was in many locations before. They incurred trucking costs to and from, and some facilities were off airport,” said Gruver. “[The new center] saves on transportation and reduces pollution and congestion.’’
Centurion’s affiliate, Sky Lease Cargo, was created in 2008 when Rey acquired assets of Tradewinds Airlines, which was in bankruptcy proceedings. Sky Lease’s management is based in Greensboro, N.C., but the carrier flies out of Miami.
Among other things, Sky Lease operates military charters to Europe and the Middle East, and provides contract services for freight forwarders and other cargo carriers, Rey said.
In 2009, Rey acquired Lynx Global, which focuses on logistics for perishable cargo. “Logistics is the next chapter for us,” said Rey, who sees growth potential in services that help forwarders and shippers do their jobs better.
The following year, he added Arrow Air Cargo to his portfolio. His carriers are also entering new markets.
In 2011, Centurion launched service to Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport as a first step in its expansion to Europe. Amsterdam is a big market for fresh flowers. Plans call for expanding service in Eastern Europe and Asia as its fleet adds more Boeing 747-400Fs.
“We’re going to change the market in air freight,” said Rey. “No doubt.”