Amazon brings five-story distribution project to Town of Niagara

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Two years after Amazon proposed a sprawling warehouse on Grand Island, only to see it fall through in the face of community opposition, the e-commerce giant is bringing the project back – this time in Niagara County.

The $300 million distribution center that the Seattle-based firm and its developer are proposing in the Town of Niagara is nearly identical to the project it scrapped just off the Niagara Thruway on Grand Island.

Its revival is a major economic development accomplishment for the town and Niagara County, which had been lobbying Amazon to turn northward after Grand Island residents and other critics effectively killed the original project, citing an unwanted impact on their community. It would be the biggest project in the Town of Niagara’s history.

The second attempt by Amazon is also a victory for supporters of that earlier project, who wanted to see such a major investment in Western New York, but feared that the resistance the company encountered would drive its business and dollars away.

But it means the company’s investment of more than $300 million, as well as more than 1,000 permanent jobs and seasonal workers, would come to Niagara County instead of Erie County – along with the potential traffic, environmental or other impacts cited by foes the first time around.

“It would significantly change the complexion of our town in a variety of ways, as well as the County of Niagara,” said Lee S. Wallace, Niagara town supervisor.

“We’re a small town and we struggle financially sometimes. The number of jobs it would bring, and the tax base, would be extremely beneficial, and we have to weigh those against whatever negative possibilities come out of it,” said Wallace, who has been trying to lure the project to the town. “It’s a project that we definitely have to take a very strong look at.”

Amazon and its new developer, Atlanta-based JB2 Partners, are proposing to construct a 3.08-million-square-foot facility at 8995 Lockport Road, using 216 acres of land adjacent to the Niagara Falls International Airport and Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station.

The five-story “e-commerce storage and distribution facility” would employ more than 1,000 people working in two shifts 24 hours a day – but no more than 1,800 at any one time, according to the application submitted to the town. The facility also would include 55 loading docks, along with 469 parking spaces for trailers, 1,755 spaces for cars and 16 for motorcycles.

Amazon is not named in the site plan application, which refers only to a “single Prospective Tenant” and is titled “Project Fifi.” But the scale and description of the project is similar – if not almost identical – to what was proposed and defeated in Grand Island.

Local sources also confirmed that it’s Amazon.

The documents also include a letter from Wallace to Foster Real Estate, expressing the town’s support for the county’s pursuit of “Project Olive,” and specifically citing the 216-acre property near the airport as suitable. Project Olive was Amazon’s designation for the failed Grand Island effort.

The application even noted that “following efforts to construct a similar project in a neighboring jurisdiction, the town provided a letter to the Prospective Tenant encouraging an effort to locate the project at the site, citing the site’s shovel-ready status and location adjacent to important transportation infrastructure.”

“The project is an exciting new business opportunity in the Town that is consistent with surrounding land uses,” Phillips Lytle attorney Kimberly R. Nason wrote in a letter accompanying the application, on behalf of JB2 Partners. “The project will create economic opportunities for other local businesses in the town.”

The project had been slated for discussion this week by the town Planning Board, but it was tabled until at least April 5 at JB2’s request, said Corey Auerbach of Barclay Damon, the special counsel hired by the Town of Niagara to handle this project.

Niagara County Economic Development Commissioner Michael A. Casale declined to comment on specifics of the proposal, but saud “a project like that – if it were a project – would have positive economic impacts.”

The earlier Grand Island proposal had called for a 3.8-million-square-foot, five-story facility to be built by developer Trammell Crow Co. on 145 acres owned by Acquest Development.

But the developer pulled the plug in August 2020 – before the Town Board could vote on the project – after meeting stiff resistance over traffic and other issues, and said it would look elsewhere but not in Erie County.

Meanwhile, the Long Road site that Amazon had targeted in Grand Island is now the subject of a potential project to build a 1.1-million-square-foot warehouse that is now under municipal and environmental review.

“Our projects are still moving forward,” said Grand Island Supervisor John Whitney. “Kudos to the Town of Niagara.”

According to the application , the facility would operate as a fulfillment and sortation center. It would receive bulk shipments of products from vendors, suppliers and sellers, and then package them to be sent to another facility for shipping directly to consumers.

The five-story building on the northern part of the site would consist of a 650,000-square-foot ground level and four additional floors of 606,750 square feet each, to house the company’s “unique and innovative storage system.”

The first floor of the concrete-and-steel building would contain a rectangular warehouse of 580,000 square feet, aligned to match the footprint of the upper floors, with material handling and sorting equipment. The perimeter of the ground level would feature offices, a staging area, a receiving area and a shipping area.

Proposed Niagara Amazon warehouse-east and west views

Each of the upper floors will be mostly occupied by about 450,000 square feet of consumer products storage area surrounded by a fence, with employees located in the remaining space around the perimeter of each floor between the fence and the walls.

The site is zoned as “heavy industrial,” making it suitable for storage and distribution, freight-forwarding and long-distance trucking terminals.

It’s also been designated as a “Build-Now Shovel-Ready” site by the state since August 2012, with the necessary utilities and infrastructure already in place, and an initial environmental review was already completed in December 2011, although the developer plans to update it.

“The project makes productive economic use of a currently vacant property,” Nason wrote.

Town and regional economic development officials have long targeted the site for redevelopment.

“We were just waiting for the right opportunity,” said Tom Kucharski, CEO of Invest Buffalo Niagara, noting that the property has been previously considered for light manufacturing or assembly, as well as logistics. “It has a lot of what you would need for any of those uses. It’s got a lot of infrastructure in place already.”

The town “reached out” to Amazon to point out the suitability of the site for the project, “noting the site’s prime location and the town’s strong history in the development of a manufacturing base and workforce,” Nason wrote.

The land is currently owned by Gotham Homes 18 LLC, a New York City-based investment group headed by Morris Fateha. Located on the south side of Lockport and Packard roads, it’s also bounded by Haseley Drive and Tuscarora Road, as well as the airports to the east and south. The former Niagara Drag Strip – closed since 1974 – cuts across the southern portion of the site, but very little remains from that operation.

About 150 acres of the site are currently used for growing corn, while the property also includes shrubs, fields, woodlands, ditches and wetlands. The application acknowledged the potential presence of an endangered or threatened wildlife species – the short-eared owl – but suggested it’s “unlikely” because the site’s character and habitat aren’t suitable. According to the application, about 105 acres of land would remain undisturbed by the project.

JB2 Partners is an industrial and logistics real estate development firm that focuses on helping its clients supply chain needs. One of its top executives was formerly a senior executive at Amazon.

JB2 and its attorney also acknowledged that traffic in the area would increase, citing a traffic impact study that projected 510 vehicles in the morning and over 831 in the evening. But their letter said the “existing roadway network” can handle that with changes or upgrades like turning lanes that the project would include.

Besides the building, the project would also include two above-ground water tanks for firefighting, two guard buildings, automatic sprinkler systems, stormwater management, driveways, lighting, signage and landscaping, with 900 trees and 386 shrubs and grasses. Water and sewer lines would also have to be constructed into the site.

JB2 Partners is seeking lot consolidation and area variances, as well as site plan approval from the town. It already received clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration and initiated conversations with the Air Reserve Station, but a host of other county and state consents are also needed.

If approved, the application said that plans call for 18 to 24 months of construction, “with scheduled winter breaks.”

Published by The Buffalo News

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