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That Giant Tucson Project? Yeah, It’s Amazon

Credit: Fleet News Daily

The Tucson area has been abuzz with speculation about a massive (technically) speculative warehouse/distribution center project being planned for Century Park Research Center/Port of Tucson that would have a footprint of between 800KSF and 1MSF.

We’re sorry for being a couple days late to the party, but AZBEX can confirm plans are in the works; Amazon is the intended tenant, and while the footprint will be 857KSF, the overall building area is 2.3MSF, according to a preliminary plan and document set we were provided by a confidential source affiliated with the project.

Known as “Project Wildcat,” the documentation includes a more than 1,100-page project manual assembled by Ford & Associates Architects. The manual includes project commissioning plans, tenant turnover plans and supporting materials published by Amazon Real Estate and Construction (Amazon Real Estate Services)

AZBEX received the materials a little more than a week ago and set about contacting county officials, members of the development team, Amazon officials and every other source we could think of. Being a massive private project, officials were even more quiet than one would normally expect. In most instances, we didn’t even get a, “No comment,” just deafening silence.

The Plans

If the 74.5-acre vacant site is developed according to the initial specifications, the base building will be structured as follows:

  • Ground Floor: 857.4KSF
  • 1st Elevated RSP Level: (10’9”): 383.7KSF
  • 2nd Elevated RSP / Process Level: (121’-6”): 671KSF
  • 3rd Elevated RSP Level (132’-3”): 406.5KSF

RSP is an Amazon-specific term related to its use of robotics in its centers. The company is the global leader in robotics-based fulfillment in its distribution centers through the use of its proprietary Robotics Storage Platform – or RSP – functionality.

The four levels yield a total building area of 2.3MSF. Of that, 2.26MSF will be warehouse storage, 48KSF will be office space and 11.5KSF will be support areas, such as restrooms, a facility shop, etc.

A total of 63 loading dock spaces are planned, and 398 transport trailer parking spaces will be provided onsite. General parking spaces are planned at 2,505 divided between the office and warehouses employees and spaces for other users.

The documents list a targeted substantial completion target of May 15, 2019 and a full completion, including all punch list items, of June 15, 2019.

Getting You the Story

Despite the nearly uniform lack of response, since we had the complete development team, we kept trying. The project directory lists Georgia-based Seefried Industrial Properties, Inc. as the owner. Our research staff contacted their VP of Development and asked about the planned timeline, consultants, general contractor status, etc.

The response was that they weren’t prepared to comment because the project was still in the site selection stage. Not wanting to tip our hand that we had the plans, but also wanting to let him know we knew at least a little something about the plans, our researcher responded with, “Does this mean that 6701 S Kolb is not the final, official address?”

The VP replied, “That’s correct, everything is preliminary now. Just seeing what we can get entitled in various municipalities as we are still a multi-state search.”

A Sept. 2017 Business Insider article identified nearly 140 Amazon distribution centers across the United States. Given the high level of automation in those centers and the degree of standardization required to ensure that runs smoothly, it’s possible the plans for each fulfillment facility are so templated as to be uniform in nearly all instances and facets, and that the Port of Tucson location is but one of many under consideration.

Interestingly, however, Seefried issued an invitation to bid to prospective general contractors at the end of February. Bids were due March 19, according to the invitation – a fairly rapid turnaround given the scope of the project – and interviews are planned to be conducted in Phoenix March 22 and 23 unless the timeline has changed since we got the tip.

Another interesting point for a project so early in the preliminary stages and checking to see what it can get entitled where, is that the Tucson Water Department notified the development team’s fire suppression consultant on Feb. 28 it had conducted a hydraulic analysis on the amount of water available to suppress fires.

While it is certain a complicated project of this scale would have a massive amount of, “ducks in a row,” up-front work, those factors indicate, but do not guarantee, this may be past the point of just a preliminary spec project exploration.

Our Process – A Peek Behind the Curtain 

AZBEX was gifted the project documents toward the end of the week of March 5. As you can imagine – and as most of you know firsthand – wading through nearly 2,000 pages of drawings, specifications and supporting materials can take a little time, particularly when you’re an eight-person team who can only dedicate maybe 2.5 people to the project in addition to getting their other work done, work that includes putting together two full issues of the magazine, updating the AZBEX database and doing the rest of the day-to-day work we manage every day.

In a perfect world, we could have run the story Friday, but I (Roland) would always prefer to go with named, quotable sources than confidentially supplied material, even when that material includes everything we technically need for a story.

We tried that. It didn’t work. I wanted to keep working the edges, and then journalistic competition creeped in. The Tucson Sentinel published a story Thursday night that basically said, “Someone told us there’s a thing called Project Wildcat planned for Port of Tucson that will be a 1MSF Amazon distribution center. We called a bunch of people and they wouldn’t tell us anything, but here’s 800 words about other Amazon distribution centers and that they’ve had some complaints about labor practices.”

That put the project in the open and the story in play. It also put me on the ceiling at 5:30 Friday morning when I saw the story.

I emailed everyone I had already tried, including senior and project staffers at Amazon Real Estate, and told them we had the plans and documents in hand and would be running the story today. I stopped just short of begging them to get on the right side of factuality, clarify whatever they wanted and help me make sure the story was right.

On Saturday, March 17, the Arizona Daily Star, which I’m certain had been working the rumor for a while, published their own version. I’m sure the Sentinel piece accelerated their timeline as well, and I sympathize. They didn’t have the plans, but they had better and more frequent Tucson/Pima connections than we do. They’re local. We’re statewide and based in Phoenix Metro.

According to the Star report, “Sources in the industrial real estate market told the Star the spec building is intended to lure a specific distributor to Tucson, but even if that company doesn’t come, the city needs more industrial space, as vacancy rates have dropped to 12-year lows.

“Having 800KSF of new industrial space, which could be split to accommodate smaller users, is a good investment for Tucson, industry insiders say.”

That report also said, “A local engineering firm has applied for a development concept permit on 94.4 acres of land at 6701 S. Kolb Road, county records show.

“A certificate of occupancy has been requested by June 2019 and a public hearing for annexation will be scheduled no later than Sept. 15, 2018, city records show.”

When you’re reporting, you always want to be first. If you’re service-oriented and ethical, however, more than first, you also want to be accurate. There is exactly one thing I hate more than getting beaten on a story, and that’s running something that was incorrect.

I started out as an investigative reporter who also covered the court/cop/crime beat. I learned very quickly inaccurate or partial reporting could impact people’s lives in very serious ways. Then I spent 20 years in corporate and organizational marketing. I learned the value of keeping quiet, but also the value of getting in front of a story, particularly a sensitive story, once it started to break. I had one rule for clients I served as a freelancer/consultant or companies I worked for as a staffer/manager/director. “No comment,” is never an option, and every request for information gets answered. If anyone gets blowback, it was because they decided to act like turtles rather than respond to clear and straightforward requests for information and clarification. Every opportunity was given; none were taken.

NOTE: Paid subscribers receive additional project details in our twice-weekly PDF publication, including project stakeholder information and valuable project bidding leads. Find out more about AZBEX subscriptions or contact Rebekah Morris at rmorris@azbex.com or (480) 709-4190.

1 Comment on That Giant Tucson Project? Yeah, It’s Amazon

  1. This is Great news for Tucson! Love Amazon & the very quick shipping.

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