Roanoke Leaders Herald Plan By Amazon To Build Warehouse on Former Deschutes Brewery Site

Amazon intends to construct a roughly 123,000-square foot distribution center in the Roanoke Centre for Industry and Technology.

An aerial view of the 48-acre property at the Roanoke Centre for Industry and Technology, once slated for a Deschutes Brewery production facility and now eyed by Amazon for a distribution center. PHOTO BY DON PETERSEN FOR THE ROANOKE RAMBLER

City leaders are praising initial plans by Amazon to build a warehouse on a Roanoke industrial park property once tapped for a Deschutes Brewery production plant.

Amazon intends to construct a roughly 123,000-square foot distribution center — about the size of two football fields — at 2002 Blue Hills Dr. NE, according to Roanoke officials and plans filed with the city.

“We’re excited,” Mayor Sherman Lea told reporters Monday. “Just the name ‘Amazon’ says a lot.”

The planned warehouse would not be one of the company’s massive fulfillment centers, where robots and humans pack consumer’s orders into cardboard boxes, according to an Amazon official. Rather, the facility would serve as a distribution point for packages bound for homes and businesses within several miles of the Roanoke region.

“We’re working with the City of Roanoke and local economic development partners regarding the potential for locating a last-mile delivery facility in the area,” Ian Allen-Anderson, an Amazon spokesperson said in an email Friday. “Progress has been made, but this is still tentative in nature and additional steps remain. We look forward to being able to share more in the future.”

The company did not answer questions about the number of jobs or wage scales expected at the facility.

Marc Nelson, the city’s director of economic development, said he anticipates Amazon could buy the property, owned by an affiliate of Deschutes, later this month and break ground on the facility in the spring.

“They were looking for a facility, or a place to build a facility, in the region for quite awhile,” Nelson told City Council members. “This was an ideal location for them because it's close to the interstate, it’s centrally located and the site is large enough to be able to house what they want to do.”

Before the deal goes through, Council had to sign off on tweaking the property deed, which required the land be used for manufacturing.

That restriction was a requirement of a federal government grant that Roanoke used to extend Blue Hills Drive to the land for Deschutes, Nelson said. Since manufacturing is no longer in the cards for the property, the city must pay back the federal government $1.5 million, which will come from Amazon’s purchase of the land.

“We want to make it clear, Amazon and Deschutes want to make it clear, there’s no public funds being used for this,” Nelson said.

The city will receive the money to repay the grant once Amazon buys the land from Deschutes; Nelson said he did not know the purchase price.

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In 2018, Deschutes, a brewery based in Bend, Oregon, bought the 48-acre property in the Roanoke Centre for Industry and Technology from the city for $3.2 million, records show.

Deschutes made the purchase as a sign of commitment to Roanoke, after backing out of plans to break ground in 2019 because of the slowing craft beer market. That year, the company said it would not be able to build the plant, and Deschutes later shuttered a tasting room downtown.

The brewery announced to great fanfare in 2016 that it had picked Roanoke for a new East Coast production facility. Then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Deschutes executives visited the City Market building and clanked beers in a toast to an anticipated investment of at least $85 million and creation of a hundred-plus jobs.

City Manager Bob Cowell said Roanoke maintains “a very favorable relationship” with the brewery and that he hopes “we have not seen the end of Deschutes” in the city.

“I'm still obviously disappointed that … Deschutes wasn't able to make the investment that they had hoped to make here,” Cowell said, “just because it added not only those jobs and economic activity, but it really fit well within what our community is about, and what it’s trying to do.”

Deschutes CEO Peter Skrbek did not respond to an email Tuesday.

City leaders praised the tentative arrival of Amazon, which has similar distribution centers in Waynesboro and Bristol, according to the company spokesperson.

“It’s a boon for us,” Vice Mayor Joe Cobb said. “Blue Hills is a great location.”

The property lies about a half mile, as the crow flies, from a 768-unit apartment complex, the largest housing development in Roanoke’s history, under construction off Orange Avenue.

Cowell said the development will put the property to productive use.

“Obviously, anytime you get a company the caliber of Amazon that's important also,” he said. “It's actually in the top five companies in the world, so getting them to be able to establish a presence here is important for us.”

Plans filed with the city show a single rectangular warehouse building surrounded by 615 parking spaces. Plans state that 395 spots are for van parking and the other 220 translate to “1 space per each employee on largest shift.”

In keeping with Amazon’s reputation for secrecy, the company’s name does not appear on the development plan from Indianapolis-based Scannell Properties. The plan is referred to as “Project Tinker” in documents filed with the city.

“They want us to stay somewhat limited in what we can say, which is odd,” Cowell told reporters.

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