The blueprints for the redevelopment of the former Rolling Acres Mall property confirm suspicions that Amazon is coming to town.
It’s inexplicably called "Project Carney," according to blueprints disseminated in October for contractors to bid on the bulk of the $100 million project. A copy of the plans found its way to the Beacon Journal/Ohio.com. The city said a description of the project, based on the plans, "is consistent with the development described by the property developer to the city."
For the first time, the blueprints not only confirm the project as an “Amazon World Wide Real Estate Transaction,” but they also give a time frame for construction: Sept. 16, 2019, through May 31, 2020. “These dates are subject to change, but are directionally correct,” according to project’s design documents.
The taxpayer-supported, job-creating redevelopment project would have enough parking spaces to support three times the number of jobs previously reported, according to the documents.
This 695,383-square-foot rectangular facility would rise 170 feet above and 526 feet across the site of the old mall, which the city acquired through foreclosure and tore down in 2016. On its Romig Road side, there would be a sea of angled parking spaces, enough for 1,767 employees, which would support seasonal swells in hiring.
Fifty-eight loading docks and 303 parking spaces for semi trucks and shipping trailers would wrap the southern and western sides of this massive distribution center.
Most of those who are involved, including the city, have signed nondisclosure agreements prohibiting any public discussion of the mystery development. The shroud of secrecy is typical in the months before Amazon announces that it is the company turning old mall properties into package handling centers, as it did last year at Randall Park Mall in North Randall.
“I really can’t comment,” said Adam Goldberg, vice president of construction for Seefried Industrial Properties Inc., which is listed as the property owner on the documents detailing the upcoming work in Akron.
"Amazon is constantly investigating new locations to support the growth and increase the flexibility of its North American network to address customers’ needs," said Rachael Lighty, regional manager of External Communications for Amazon Operations. "Amazon is not yet commenting on any specific plans in Ohio."
To acquire the land, the project developer used a private equity firm to pay $600,000 for 40 acres owned by the city and $16.5 million for seven privately owned lots, some of which sold for as much as $3 million an acre, according to county property records. In a deal negotiated by Mayor Dan Horrigan’s economic development team and approved by everyone on City Council but Zack Milkovich, Akron has agreed to refund the developer the $17.1 million cost for all the land through property tax rebates.
The net impact on taxpayers and government services is difficult to calculate. Essentially, the developer would be made whole over the next 30 years with reduced tax revenue from the property for the city’s schools and diverted tax revenue for the county’s libraries, developmental disability board, children’s services, metro parks, zoo and more. In exchange, Amazon promises $30 million in annual payroll for at least 10 years. The Beacon Journal/Ohio.com calculates that it would take 24 years to amass $17.1 million in income taxes from that minimum level of payroll, assuming Amazon’s corporate profits are paid somewhere other than Akron.
In the end, it’s a trade of property taxes supporting countywide services for income taxes and new jobs directly benefiting the city, plus the revitalization of a once bustling mall that sat empty and blighted for a decade.
In 2012, Seefried completed two projects with facades that resemble the slightly smaller blueprints for the Akron site. Each is now a 1 million-square-foot Amazon fulfillment center, one in Virginia and the other in Tennessee.
Amazon fulfillment centers use a mix of automation and labor to sort, store, route and ship e-commerce items exchanged between Amazon online shoppers and sellers.
The project draws on engineers and design experts spanning the country: from New Jersey-based Langan Engineering & Environmental Services, whose local office in Independence would not comment on the blueprints, to Hargis Engineers, a security consultancy in the state of Washington.
All that’s left of Rolling Acres Mall is anchor department stores last used for storage. They all will be torn down, according to the plans. Only a public bus stop and a tan, brick warehouse last used to ship industrial equipment would remain.
The complex would be accessible by semi trucks and employees from three existing entrances to the old mall: one by the warehouse at 2488 Romig Road, another beside recently renovated Local 24 Teamsters hall and a third between them, which would offer right-turn-only access to the employee parking lot for workers arriving from the north or headed south toward I-76 to go home.
The facility is scheduled to open in 2020, offering between 500 and 1,767 jobs likely starting at the $15 an hour paid at other Amazon fulfillment centers. Job searches at other Amazon facilities typically ramp up in the months before ribbon cuttings.
This story was updated to include a response from Amazon, which is not commenting about the project.
Reach Doug Livingston at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-996-3792.