Real estate developer Duke Realty is moving forward with plans for a second Amazon distribution center next to the massive warehouse the online retailer announced last fall — possibly for its growing grocery operation, Amazon Fresh.
The city's Building Department issued a permit for a new 345,000-square-foot, one-story warehouse located at 5501 Holabird Ave. that could employ about 325 people during peak hours. The Planning Department's site plan review committee approved the proposal in January.
District 1 City Councilman Jim Kraft said the second warehouse is a "sign of progress" at the site of the former General Motors plant, which closed in 2005. He said he expects the additional Amazon presence to help strengthen the Canton industrial area, bringing spin-off business and new jobs.
"We're really excited about the continued commitment that Amazon is making to the City of Baltimore and to Southeast Baltimore in particular," Kraft said. "We're hoping that Duke continues to have this type of success in developing the GM site."
Duke Realty, which often builds facilities for Amazon, acquired the 184-acre property in 2006, demolishing the buildings and renaming it the Chesapeake Commerce Center. Two buildings already are open.
In August, the Indianapolis-based company pulled permits for a 1 million-square-foot facility on Broening Highway, subsequently announced as a future hub for Amazon distribution. That warehouse is expected to bring 1,000 jobs to the area.
Amazon, which is notoriously tight-lipped about its plans, did not respond to questions about the second warehouse. Duke Realty representatives also did not respond to requests for comment.
Officials from the Baltimore Development Corp. and the state's Department of Business and Economic Development did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday about Amazon's second warehouse, identified in documents as "Project Rook."
The property is located in a new, proposed "focus area" designed to help reactivate industrial properties in East Baltimore by offering larger tax incentives to businesses that locate there.
The focus area, which includes a 10-year, 80 percent property tax credit on value added by new physical improvements, was important to negotiations with Amazon about its first site, said BDC President Brenda McKenzie last week.
"Our ability to pursue this incentive was important to the Amazon team and it does impact how they may grow in the city moving forward," McKenzie said Thursday at a meeting of the BDC board.
The city expects to apply for approval from the state for the new focus area by April 15, in time for Amazon's larger property to be eligible for the breaks. The measure received unanimous support from a City Council subcommittee on Thursday but still must be approved by the full council. McKenzie told city councilors the state supports the city's effort to add the East Baltimore focus area to its three existing focus zones.
The new warehouse, which documents show would house items considered a moderate or heavy fire hazard — paper or food, rather than machinery, for example — sits across the CSX railroad tracks from the new Amazon building. Building Department plans show more than 200 parking spots, as well as more than 150 trailer bays.
The facility is likely part of the expansion of AmazonFresh, the company's grocery delivery service, according to Jeff Metzger, the publisher of Food World and Food Trade News, which covers the grocery industry in the Northeast. AmazonFresh currently operates in Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
"The ultimate goal is they want to go into the most heavily populated markets," he said. "The next pocket is the Northeast."
Metzger said Amazon has established a pattern of building smaller warehouses for Amazon Fresh as "companions" for its large general distribution centers. He said it's unlikely Amazon itself will go public about its plans any time soon and predicted it will be at least one year before the site is live.
"Just because they have a permit doesn't mean they're going to break ground tomorrow," he said.