Could It Be Amazon?

A trip by the airport yesterday revealed a major dust cloud pluming up from the Chapman Westport development. After stopping by the project site, I found a massive excavation job being undertaken. A little digging around at Findlay Township’s offices uncovered applications by Chapman Properties for four items to be acted upon at the July 26 planning commission meeting. Those actions included the subdivision of 427.4 acres, including the creation of an 84.6 acre parcel, labeled Parcel A. There is also the application for approval of a land development on that parcel that involves construction of a 1,015,740 square foot warehouse/office, along with a 48,000 square foot building on another parcel.

That’s not a typo. There are two commas in that warehouse square footage.

Last week’s Pittsburgh 2Q2016 Industrial Market Report by Newmark Grubb Knight Frank alluded to a million square foot user in the market without naming the company. It would seem that user has landed. Tony Rosenberger, Chapman’s president, politely acknowledged that Chapman was planning a 48,000 square foot spec building – known as 110 Building – and that Foley Excavating was doing a major dirt job to prepare for the expansion of the Westport park. Beyond that, he had no comment on the construction or the applications to Findlay Township. Of course, I would have been shocked if he had.

There aren’t that many million-square-foot users out there. Civic leaders have speculated about those kinds of companies following the Shell cracker as downstream manufacturers; but with the plant’s opening date set for “early next decade,” it seems unlikely that a related plant would be getting underway now. The proximity of the site to GE Plastic’s new facility gets the imagination spinning but, again, it seems unlikely that GE could have created enough economic activity in six months to have spawned a million-square-foot neighbor. The most likely user at Westport is Amazon, especially since Dick’s Sporting Goods announced today that it was building its big distribution center in Conklin, NY.

When Amazon signed the lease for 250,000 square feet in Crafton back in Summer 2014, logistics experts talked about the “Amazon effect” that would attract other big distribution and fulfillment companies. But at the time, the brokerage community talked about the deal as being a search for 250,000 to 300,000 sqaure feet with future need for a million or more. That’s the size that is typically associated with Amazon Robotics’ fulfillment centers, which employ as many as 1,000 people.

Perhaps the end user will be revealed at the Findlay Township planning commission meeting, although that wouldn’t be necessary for the review or approval. In some ways, it could be even better if it’s another big company, since it would make Pittsburgh that much more attractive to kindred businesses. Chances are it won’t be a secret long.

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4 responses to “Could It Be Amazon?

  1. Wolf signed a deal with Amazon around July 22 where they announced they will be growing their labor force by 5k across the State. So far they have announced one expansion in NW PA. I would say this is most likely an Amazon project. Two interesting sub topics here. Amazon hired a key CMU prof recently to be part of their logistics team. Amazon’s warehouse are state of the art in terms of automation and robotics. Possibly this facility would have a innovation jv with CMU to enhance their robotics capability. Just recently Amazon signed a deal in the UK to develop package delivery drones. When I first heard of this scheme I thought Bezos was crazy but now I have to give him the big benefit of the doubt. Times are a changing.

    • And changing rapidly at that. The Amazon Robotics facilities are incredible, with oversized Rumba-like robots dragging huge racks of goods around to where pickers fulfill the orders. The aims of robotics in logistics are many but the surprising thing is these places still employ a big workforce. The 1,000 associated with this facility isn’t a guess. Because of CMU primarily, Pittsburgh is at or near the center of the innovation for automation right now. If this is Amazon, it’s probably not the last such center. It’s sort of like what happened when Whole Foods landed or Nordstrom’s. Those brands get the attention of every other similar brand. No one seemed to know there was so much money in Pittsburgh until there was a place to spend it. It wasn’t that long ago when someone asked me who would spend $800 for a one-bedroom apartment. Guess we put that question to rest.

  2. I would agree with your assessment here and I also agree with the other comments. Pittsburgh really has become a breeding ground for the leaders in tech. We already have Google and Uber here and I also heard from another real estate buddy that Facebook is building their Oculus Rift facility here as well. With Pitt and CMU having top ranked tech, engineering, and robotics programs its easy to see why these top companies are moving in. Pittsburgh is far less expensive than silicon valley and the area is a prime area to recruit top talent. I really enjoy watching our city grow into this as we have had some rough times and set backs from the steel mill days. However Pittsburgh really has become a city of medical and technology advancements and I couldn’t be happier.

  3. A sincere attaboy to my hometown! Here in Silicon Valley, we envy the quality of life (and sane cost of living) of Pittsburgh.
    Joe R.

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