Could e-commerce warehouses planned in Alcoa and Knoxville be for same internet giant?

The same developer proposing an e-commerce warehouse at Knoxville Center Mall has the green light to build an even larger distribution facility in Alcoa.

And a detail in planning documents points to Amazon as the planned occupant for that facility.

Alcoa Municipal Regional Planning Commission approved Hillwood Enterprises' proposed site plan for a $187.5 million, 635,000-square-foot distribution center intended for an unnamed occupant on a portion of the former Pine Lakes Golf Course.

Hillwood's Alcoa site plans, obtained by Knox News through a public records request, contain one major clue as to its intended occupant. Plans call for the 95-foot, five-story warehouse to be topped with a blue stripe.

The specific color of that stripe, identified as Pantone 2995C, is also known as Prime Blue, the primary brand color for Amazon Prime.

Hillwood Enterprises' planned project in Alcoa

We don't know whether Hillwood's Alcoa and Knoxville projects are intended for the same unnamed occupant, two different occupants or whether the same occupant would choose one site over the other.

Dubbed "Project Pearl," the Alcoa distribution center would physically dwarf what's planned in Knoxville.

Alcoa warehouse not a done deal yet

Hillwood is "exploring the feasibility of constructing a warehouse" there, Alcoa City Planner Jeremy Pearson said at an Oct. 15 planning meeting.

"It's not a done deal," Alcoa City Manager Mark Johnson said at an Oct. 14 meeting. "We've gotten this far with other projects in the past and all of a sudden they decide, nope, we're going somewhere else."

For Project Pearl, Hillwood proposes to acquire the 85-acre Pine Lakes Golf Course, just east of the Alcoa Highway and Pellissippi Parkway interchange.

The course, located at 4141 Singleton Station Rd., closed in 2019. The property is located inside an Opportunity Zone, a tax policy designed to incentivize development in economically distressed areas.

The site plan calls for 1,092 parking spaces for cars, 272 trailer spaces, and about 50 shipping and receiving docks. Final designs for the building were significantly scaled down, originally more than 800,000 square feet.

Johnson estimated the occupant would hire 750 employees to start. He confirmed the occupant would be new to the area.

Hillwood has a history of developing properties for Amazon, as well as Wayfair and other retailers. Hillwood representatives did not respond to a request for comment.

Site plan designer Ware Malcomb, based in Atlanta, has a history of providing architectural services on Amazon projects.

It designed the 1-million-square-foot "Project Tarpon" in a western suburb of Chicago, which was completed this summer. That building, an Amazon facility, now bears a blue stripe on top.

If Hillwood elected to move forward with the Alcoa site plan, the project would be completed ahead of a planned Alcoa Highway relocation that would eventually put the facility directly between Pellissippi Parkway and Alcoa Highway. The site would eventually be accessed by a bridge.

Same occupant as Knoxville Center Mall project?

The connection between Project Pearl and the proposed e-commerce facility at Knoxville Center Mall — "Project Malibu" — is unclear.

Hillwood develops properties for multiple occupants, so it's possible the sites are for separate entities.

It's also possible, given the parallel timelines, that the facilities are intended for the same occupant. Hillwood and its representatives began conversations with the cities of Knoxville and Alcoa over the summer. And in both projects the developer has quickly and without much ado made alterations to speed the approval process.

Pearson said construction of the Alcoa project could start as early as January 2021.

The occupant might choose between the two facilities or utilize both. Project Malibu would provide proximity to a dense workforce in East Knoxville and Project Pearl would provide quick access to McGhee Tyson Airport.

It's not unheard of for Amazon to operate two facilities in close proximity in similar markets. The internet retailer operates warehouses in Chattanooga and Charleston, Tennessee, located about 30 minutes apart.

Knoxville City Council likely will approve Hillwood's request to rezone Knoxville Center Mall at Tuesday's meeting. The new industrial zoning will pave the way for the separate owners of the mall's four parcels to sell the entire mall property to Hillwood.

Initially touted as a $70 million investment, Hillwood scaled the Knoxville Center Mall project back to satisfy concerns about light, sound and traffic effects on the neighborhood.

The new design, now a single 219,000-square-foot warehouse, would be at least a $30 million investment. The occupant would provide about 730 jobs with an estimated payroll of $22 million per year. Half of those jobs would be contract-based.

Because it is awaiting rezoning approval, Hillwood has not submitted site plans to the city that would include such building details as a blue stripe.

Hillwood would seek to demolish mall property as early as February 2021 and would set an ambitious timeline to open the Knoxville warehouse facility in March 2022.

If re-zoning is approved, Hillwood will have cleared a significant hurdle toward meeting its speedy timeline.

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel, by Brenna McDermott

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Published November 18, 2020