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Amazon fulfillment center project underway in Tulsa

Groundbreaking has begun on Amazon's fulfillment center site in Tulsa

Published on July 2, 2018 12:01AM


TULSA, Okla. (AP) David Charney recently went out to the Amazon fulfillment center site for the first time since he sold the land on which the massive facility will be built.

Bulldozers were digging into the ground, etching swaths of dark brown soil through a field of green grass.

Charney said it was a little emotional to see that work on the project had already begun. After all, the sale of the land for $5.2 million had been completed less than a week before.

"I don't know that I've ever sold a piece of ground on a Monday and they're digging on a Tuesday," he said.

Charney, managing partner of Owasso Land Trust, has been developing commercial, residential and industrial properties throughout the Tulsa area for decades. Macy's Inc. paid Owasso Land Trust $4 million for 72 acres of unincorporated Tulsa County land to build its fulfillment center.

"Both Macy's and Amazon had projected opening dates for the new facility that if those dates could not be met, they were going to go to Kansas City or Dallas or Oklahoma City," he said. "It is that simple."

The Amazon deal began when four people, two from an unnamed "big user" who did not give their full names and two officials from Seefried Industrial Properties, a site-selection and development firm, walked into Charney's office on Dec. 11.

They wanted to know about the 320 acres of undeveloped land under his company's control on the southeast quadrant of U.S. 169 and 46th Street North.

And they made it clear that the facility would have to be up and operating by August 2019, in time for that year's holiday shopping season.

"We led with, 'This site is teed up, ready to go. Sanitary sewer on site, roadways on the site, sufficient water on the site, sufficient utilities on the site. We're ready to go,'" Charney recalled.

He and his colleague Brian Beam also told their guests about U.S. 75 and U.S. 169, which provide easy access to Dallas and Kansas City, and the east/west access available on Interstate 44. They told them about recent improvements to the interchange at U.S. 169 and 46th Street North and the property's proximity to Tulsa International Airport and the Tulsa Port of Catoosa.

"I think this is worthy of note," said Charney. "The city of Tulsa invested about 12 years ago in bringing a sewer line (east) under (U.S. 169) to help, potentially, stimulate industrial development on the east side."

That public investment, and others, paid off in private development. Six companies, including QuikTrip, Alro Steel and Southeastern Freight Lines, have built facilities at the adjacent Greenhill Distribution Center.

Amazon's four-story, roughly 2 million-square-foot fulfillment center will be directly east of the QuikTrip structure.

"It started the party," Charney said of the public infrastructure investments. "There was enough blank canvas to the east of it (U.S. 169) to land the really big fish."

Charney's pitch that December morning had another important element, one he spent an equal amount of time highlighting. The unnamed user, he had sensed, was looking for an embrace from the community not a stiff arm. So for the next hour he explained how Tulsa was in the midst of a renaissance and worthy of being home to the project.

"I said that we have a progressive attitude, that we are a unique city and that our community foundation is way larger than a city our size should be because of the great philanthropy," Charney said. "And that we are a progressive dot . in this rather red state, and that we think that they would feel welcomed here and that our recent city administration has people on board who look like the community."

The meeting ended with no commitments, Charney said, but enough of a good feeling that he immediately phoned Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum and then-Chief of Economic Development Kathy Taylor to make them aware of the meeting.

On Jan. 17, representatives from Seefried met with the city's economic development and development services staffs. Within a month, city officials knew that Amazon was the company with which they were dealing, and the work has not stopped since.

"Our focus really has been heavily on the building permit approval process and then the infrastructure approval process," said Kian Kamas, who succeeded Taylor as chief of economic development in February.

Amazon received incentives to come to Tulsa, including the promise of more infrastructure improvements. But Kamas believes that incentives get a city only so far when it comes to landing a big employer like Amazon.

"You can give all the incentives you want to a company, but if you are a year late in delivering their building, there is no point," she said.

Charney said two other factors played a key role in Amazon's decision to build a new prototype of its fulfillment centers in Tulsa: a solid workforce and access to technical training, Tulsa World reported.

"They said that the work ethic they gathered to be in existence between here and the Kansas line the community with hard-working folks who would provide a solid employment base was wider and deeper than they might have thought it to be," Charney said. "That, coupled with great industrial training that they uncovered at Tulsa Tech, was another factor in the decision to locate here."

Back at the Amazon site, Charney couldn't help but point out the manhole cover protruding from the ground proof, he noted again, of the city's wise investment in the area and he praised the multiple entities, public and private, that help make Tulsa a place Amazon wants to be.

"I hope this becomes the new norm for our city under the leadership of Mayor (G.T.) Bynum," Charney said. "I think this provided a first go at this expedited effort."

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Information from: Tulsa World, http://www.tulsaworld.com



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