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Mesa Garners $2B Apple Data Center Project

Despite False Starts, Infrastructure Investments Make Facility the Best Choice

Following the failure of First Solar and the bankruptcy of GT Advanced Technology, third time may be the charm as Apple plans to locate its $2B global data center at the anchor site in Mesa’s tech corridor. Photo credit: David Kadlubowski/The Arizona Republic

By Rebekah Morris for Arizona Builder’s Exchange

Monday’s announcement of Apple’s $2B investment in East Mesa is not the first (or second) time a major announcement has been celebrated for the site.

First came First Solar, with plans for a solar panel manufacturing plant. The shell was constructed, but before fully equipped, that company announced the plant would be mothballed.

Next, in late 2013, Apple supplier GT Advanced Technology came in to occupy the newly built shell as a manufacturing facility. But in October 2014, GTAT had gone bankrupt and the future of the facility became (again) uncertain. As part of the GTAT deal, Apple already owned the building outright.

Now, Apple plans to locate a $2B command center for its global data networks at the Mesa site.

This week’s fanfare brings with it cautious optimism for the building that has brought so much attention to the Economic Development community despite the secretive nature of today’s massive corporations.

The good news is that if the $2B investment materializes, significant opportunities are available for design and construction firms.

What will be needed? Neither the Economic Development Department nor City Manager of Mesa has seen plans for the actual construction. And no one will comment on if a team has been selected for the project.

Who’s got the work? That will be the hottest rumor on the planet for the coming months. When the GTAT deal was coming to town, the whispers of “Project Cascade” had everybody buzzing. Even when a firm is identified, they’re not likely to confirm it.

The good – Apple, being the wealthiest company on the planet, certainly suggests they have the capital and wherewithal to make the project happen as fast as they choose.

The bad – the realistic deployment of when these dollars will be spent is pretty disappointing. As part of GTAT’s bankruptcy, they have 48 months to sell more than 2,000 furnaces they had installed in the building.

These aren’t the sort of rummage sale items you can put outside under a tarp to make room for new furniture. The furnace sale and removal must be fully underway before Apple can make meaningful progress on occupying the building. To date, exactly zero furnaces have been sold.

The ugly – while we love to hear about high-wage jobs coming to Arizona, it’ll be years before they come to fruition. According to Chris Brady, City Manager of Mesa, the 150 permanent jobs will go to current Apple employees, relocating from the Bay Area. When that happens, Mesa will be one of the largest hubs of Apple employees in the world, outside their headquarters in California.

City of Mesa Prepares for Apple-like Projects Years in Advance

The gold stars in this story go to the City of Mesa and SRP. Sure, Gov. Doug Ducey, the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, and Arizona Commerce Authority all played a role in putting this deal together. But more than the others, it was Mesa that seeded the ground for successful development.

Mesa prepared for companies like Apple, First Solar, and GTAT years in advance by investing in meaningful infrastructure projects that high-tech companies need to locate there.

Mesa has invested in not only streets, water, and wastewater projects for the site, but has the buy-in from SRP which constructed a substation close-by to provide the significant power requirements a high-tech user would desire. Additionally, the area has enormous dark fiber capacity.

Last, the facility is the quasi “Anchor Tenant” to the City’s Elliot Road Tech Corridor (AZBEX, Sept. 19, 2014), situated at the eastern end of that corridor. In that location they enjoy Foreign Trade Zone status, as well as flexible zoning requirements, which allows for taller buildings than the surrounding area.

Map courtesy of City of Mesa

Map courtesy of City of Mesa