GAINES TOWNSHIP –– Developers representing an online retail behemoth are considering a 100-acre site in southern Kent County for a “massive” distribution facility, MiBiz has learned.
Applicant Project Rapids — who multiple sources familiar with the plans say is a developer representing Amazon.com Inc. — is requesting an amendment from Gaines Township that would allow it to build a sprawling warehouse and distribution center on undeveloped land currently owned by Steelcase Inc.
Sources familiar with the plans cautioned that a deal with the developer had yet to be finalized, but crews were onsite in recent weeks with soil testing and survey equipment.
Gaines Township Supervisor Robert DeWard declined to disclose the proposed facility’s tenant or developers, citing a non-disclosure agreement.
The proposed site is part of a parcel zoned as a large-scale planned unit development at the southwest corner of 68th Street and Patterson Avenue.
In the application, Project Rapids said it plans to build a two-story building with an internal floor area “well in excess” of 1 million square feet, including 55,000 square feet of office space. The site plan also includes 2,709 parking spaces.
Township Planning Commission documents do not disclose the developer by name nor do they specifically mention Amazon as the would-be user.
However, the specific uses outlined in the application call for “shipping, receiving, distributing, preparing and selling products, materials, food and grocery, and liquor items.”
The Project Rapids proposal is scheduled to go before the township’s Planning Commission on March 22 because it would require an amendment of the initial planned unit development that was approved for Steelcase in 1985 and amended in 1986, according to the documents. The company’s 600,000-square-foot Wood Manufacturing Plant sits on the northwest corner of the more than 300-acre parcel.
Specifically, the proposed amendment would incorporate into the planned development several former adjacent home sites Steelcase purchased over the years that are currently zoned “Agricultural-Rural Residential,” as well as several proposed uses for lighting and signage that “deviate from general Township regulations.”
If the Planning Commission makes a positive recommendation on the rezoning plans, the request will then go before the Gaines Township Board on April 9. The developer would then plan to submit a more detailed site plan to the Planning Commission at its April 22 meeting, according to the documents.
In a statement, the Seattle-based Amazon neither confirmed nor denied that it was considering the site for an order fulfillment center.
“Amazon is constantly investigating new locations to support the growth and increase the flexibility of its North American network to address customers’ needs,” Shevaun Brown, regional operations PR manager for Amazon, wrote in an email to MiBiz. “Amazon is not yet commenting on any specific plans in Michigan.”
A spokesperson for Steelcase said the company “is occasionally approached by outside organizations or individuals looking to purchase its real estate holdings, but we do not comment on the existence or status of potential or pending transactions.”
Should the deal come together, it would make for Amazon’s first distribution facility in the western part of the state. The company is at various stages of development and construction for three facilities in metro Detroit, including in Shelby Township, Romulus and Livonia.
Those three distribution centers, which are expected to employ more than 3,000 people combined, have been awarded a total of nearly $20 million in economic development grants from the Michigan Strategic Fund, according to documents from the Michigan Economic Development Corp. (MEDC).
An MEDC spokesman declined to comment on any potential Amazon facility in Kent County.
If the Amazon deal comes to fruition, it would make for another large economic development win for Gaines Township. The southern Kent County municipality is also the home of Switch Ltd.’s East Coast data center located in the Pyramid Building, a former Steelcase facility on 60th Street SE.
The broader impact on the community from the potential Amazon project remains unclear. However, a February report by the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning Washington, D.C. think tank, called into question the overall impact that Amazon fulfillment centers have on communities where they locate.
“When Amazon opens a new fulfillment center, the host county gains roughly 30 percent more warehousing and storage jobs but no new net jobs overall, as the jobs created in warehousing and storage are likely offset by job losses in other industries,” according to the EPI report. “Amazon fulfillment centers do not generate broad-based employment growth.”
The proposed distribution center marks the second time in six months the region has flirted with the online retail giant.
Earlier this year, the greater Grand Rapids area lost out in its bid for Amazon’s $5 billion HQ2 project, despite offering three sites in the region and a package of more than $2 billion in state and local incentives, according to disclosures earlier this month from The Right Place Inc.
Officials at the Grand Rapids-based regional economic development organization declined to comment for this report.