Another mystery warehouse has been pitched for Johnston.
The town’s Planning Board voted unanimously (4-0) Tuesday night to accept a Major Land Development Master Plan from NorthPoint Development.
NorthPoint hopes to build the “I-295 Commerce Center,” a $75 million, 555,980 square foot warehouse facility off Stonehill Drive, between the Home Depot and the BJ’s Wholesale Club.
The more than 70-acre parcel, known as AP 44 Lot 66, is zoned B-3 for Interchange Business.
“We’re excited to invest $75 million in your community, create 300 jobs, and at the same time be conscientious about how we develop this in an appropriate manner, with the correct transportation infrastructure that can handle it,” said Brent Miles, Chief Marketing Officer and Founding Partner of NorthPoint Development.
Similar to the Amazon Distribution Facility under construction near the intersection of Interstate 295 and Route 6, the newly proposed NorthPoint warehouse has triggered some traffic concerns along the already heavily traveled Atwood Avenue (Route 5) corridor.
“In all likelihood, this project won’t come back until some sort of understanding is reached with Rhode Island DOT,” said Johnston Town Planner Thomas Deller. “We have a history in this town of working those things out. We’ve done it with Citizens. We’ve done it with the Amazon project. I’m sure we’ll have the ability to work something out at this stage.”
Deller told the Planning Board to expect a “unified development and review process to deal with parking” in the near future.
“I think that this is a very straightforward presentation,” Deller said.
Miles estimated the facility, once built and opened for business, would employ around 280 permanent direct staffing jobs, 219 construction jobs, provide around $13.1 million in annual wages and benefits for employees and generate around $3.1 million in fees.
Initial master plan approval was conditional, with several caveats provided by Deller, who said the board and neighbors will want planners to “look at and understand the noise” and that the developers will be “required to protect the residential zones next door.”
The Planning Board also discussed the potential for a traffic rotary along Stonehill Drive, to further alleviate increased congestion from exiting tractor-trailers and several hundred more commuters.
“I think they have met all the requirements of the master plan,” Deller told the Planning Board Tuesday night. “They have no other requirements … through zoning. Staff, in its recommendation, with a few conditions, did recommend approval of the master plan subject to those conditions.”
NorthPoint has not announced the building’s likely tenant, but the firm has more than 465 industrial clients, including companies like Walmart, Target, Lowe’s, Boeing, GE, Pepsi, GM, TrueValue, Crocs, Patagonia and Chewy.com.
“Just questioning, I know you can’t divulge, at this point, but do you have it already leased?” Asked Planning Board Chairman John Laurito.
“We don’t have a tenant,” Miles answered. “I’ll address that kind of head-on. We don’t put this out in front of companies until we get through meetings like this. It would ruin our reputation if I sent this to … New Balance or Nike and we didn’t get approval. That would look bad for us. We’re too early to do that.”
NorthPoint has received approval to build a similar facility in Warwick off Airport Road. Construction has not yet started at the Warwick site, and a tenant for that building has not yet been announced, although that project has progressed much further than the newly pitched Johnston warehouse.
“Hopefully, I’m not trying to be presumptuous, but hopefully as approvals continue to move forward, and we feel more confident about the closing and timeline, that this project would happen, then we would get out there,” Miles explained. “A building of this size, and this location, if it’s not a Fortune 150 or Fortune 100 company that would surprise me. We do not have a tenant in tow. I want to be really clear about that. Just given the size, location, the market in general, this is probably one of those Fortune 150, 100 companies.”
Based in Kansas City, Missouri, Miles and five others formed NorthPoint Development about a decade ago.
“I’m proud to say that today we’re the largest privately held industrial landlord in the United States,” Miles told the Planning Board. “We’ve grown from five employees to about 800 over the last 10 years. We started investing in what we call ‘the New England area.’ We started our first project in Warwick. That’s underway now, near the Airport off Airport Road. This is the second project that we have proposed in the area.”
The site in Johnston near BJ’s is one of the few remaining major undeveloped parcels in town.
“We have a site under contract,” Miles told the board. “Many of you probably know this site. We call it the I-295 Commerce Center … This is the last undeveloped (lot) … by the BJ’s.”
The developers will inherit several challenges at the site.
“This is a tough site, as you all know,” Miles said. “There’s a couple things that come with it. Rock and topography being one of them. Anybody who’s seen the site knows it’s a site that needs some work and development. I think we’re the firm to do that.”
The budget has recently increased from an estimated $68.9 million to an “updated budget, crossing over the $75 million estimate,” according to Miles.
“You have just shy of 300 permanent jobs that will be in this facility,” Miles said. “Not to mention the … construction jobs, that come with … over 200, high paying wages for those construction workers: concrete, steel, electricians, carpenters, you name it, we employ it here on our site. Lots of good annual wages that come out of a facility like this.”
NorthPoint representatives have been “meeting with RIDOT and several stakeholders over the last two months on access, how to improve access,” Miles said.
“We don’t want to make a problem worse than it is today from traffic,” he explained. “And so that’s important to us. If you think it’s important to you, it’s important to the tenant who comes into this building. So these are the kinds of things that we’re working on and studying, of how to get access, and how to basically alleviate any traffic concerns that’s created by this development.”
NorthPoint boasts a current industrial portfolio of nearly 102 million square feet, more than $10 billion in total capital raised, 48.6 million square feet of industrial space under construction and more than 73,000 jobs created by their developments across the country.
“We own about 102 million square feet across the country today,” Miles said. “Right now we put on about 25-30 million square feet a year across the country … I used to say, from Staten Island to Sacremento, I think I have to say from Warwick to Sacramento now.”
Planning Board Vice-Chairman Joseph Lembo made a motion to accept the Master Plan, with several conditions, most notably, the “finalization of truck access directly to the site from Route 6 and Interstate 295.”
Lembo and Laurito voted with Planning Board Member Gina Sabitoni Arakelian, and Board Alternate Taylor Russo, to approve the master plan 4-0.
The 7-member board just barely made quorum at the meeting, with several members out due to COVID-19 infections and other health issues. The board operates with seven sitting members and two alternates. On Tuesday night, just three members and an alternate were in attendance (member Peggy Passarelli joined the meeting late and did not cast a vote).
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