Amazon submits plan to put up large 'tent' in North Little Rock

Distribution site would be short-term

Posted: September 12, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

FILE - In this Friday, July 27, 2018, file photo, the logo for Amazon is displayed on a screen at the Nasdaq MarketSite. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, file)

Amazon's first distribution center in Arkansas is planned as a 16,333-square-foot, one-story sorting facility housed in a "tent structure," according to a proposed site plan submitted to the North Little Rock Planning Department.

Other details in the documents filed with the department indicate the facility is temporary.

The structure will have no water or sewer connections, according to a site plan review application dated Sept. 6. Instead, the facility will be supported by three smaller, modular buildings -- one for restrooms, another to serve as a break room and the third as a general office, all served with water and sewer "supplied ... by temporary/self-contained services."

"This site is proposed as a transitory distribution facility operated by Amazon," Thomas Pownall, vice president of Thomas Engineering Co. of North Little Rock, said in the application he submitted on behalf of the world's largest retailer. "The typical permit/operation time for this type operation is [six] months with the possibility to renew in the future."

Word of the online retailer's proposed distribution center came last month at a City Council meeting. The council approved an ordinance to rezone the vacant 4.5-acre site at 1920 N. Locust St. to light industrial from residential and conservation.

The address, which has quick access to Interstate 30, would fit a sorting facility that has space to unload two tractor-trailers, according to the site plan. The facility has spaces that would allow 14 vans to be loaded with goods from the bigger trucks.

The site plan review application is on the agenda of a special meeting of the North Little Rock Planning Commission that is set for 2 p.m. Sept. 19. A special meeting of the city's Design Review Committee will be held at noon Friday to discuss the proposal in advance of the commission meeting.

Similar Amazon tentlike distribution centers are popping up elsewhere in the United States. Amazon appears to be testing a new strategy to speed package delivery. These centers will sort packages from larger Amazon distribution sites and take them "the last mile," a service now largely handled by the U.S. Postal Service, UPS and FedEx.

Locations of similar sorting sites include Baton Rouge, Memphis, and Ladson, S.C., according to recent news accounts. The reports describe Amazon facilities that range from 16,000 to 20,000 square feet that are covered by tentlike structures and employ fewer than 100 people.

If the other locations are any indication, the North Little Rock building will be a product of ClearSpan Fabric Structures Inc. of South Windsor, Conn.

The company says its fabric-covered, steel-framed buildings can be built in less than half the time -- "in a matter of weeks" -- it takes to put up a wood or steel building.

The building interiors are more spacious because the structures require no internal columns or supports, according to the company. The buildings also are energy-efficient because the translucent fabric allows the use of natural light. The fabric qualities also help the buildings stay cool in the summer and warm in the winter, ClearSpan said.

The tentlike structure appears to be a first for North Little Rock, according to Norman Clifton, chairman of the city's Planning Commission and the owner of the site Amazon has selected.

"But our plan review people have looked at it," he said. "They have supplied all kinds of architectural detail and standards and specifications for facilities like this.

"It looks like from what I've seen is the building facility itself is a standardized building that meets the United States building code. Our building code people will look at that and make sure that it does."

The building is "pretty elaborate" and represents a "sizable investment," said Clifton, who is convinced Amazon eventually will build a bigger, permanent facility.

The deal to land the North Little Rock site came together relatively quickly. Jay Chesshir, president and chief executive officer of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce said Amazon "reached out to us in the early summer."

"We're excited about the new concept," he said. "They are executing a relatively short-term real estate lease to get it up and running and then determine its effectiveness. As we do with any new company that moves into the Little Rock metro region, we're welcoming them with open arms."

Landing the Amazon site fits in with a strategic focus developed earlier this year to attract distribution and logistics facilities.

"Logistics and distribution is a huge target for us," Chesshir said. "When you incorporate the interstate highway intersections here -- 30 and 40 -- the two Class 1 railroads intersecting here, the river obviously and its access to other waterborne transportation and then the increasing air-cargo transportation coming in and out of Little Rock, this is a pretty attractive place for distribution and logistics activity."

The deal is a far cry, though, from landing Amazon's second headquarters, which the company, now based in Seattle, said will represent a $5 billion investment and employ 50,000 people.

The deadline for cities to submit proposals was nearly a year ago. Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola initially indicated his city would apply. Instead, he, Chesshir and other civic leaders unveiled the "Love, Little Rock" campaign, which tried to capitalize on the publicity generated by Amazon headquarters search to build buzz for the city and surrounding region.

It included a tongue-in-cheek breakup letter from the city to Amazon that appeared as a full-page ad in The Washington Post, which is owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

Chesshir said he couldn't say if the campaign played a role in Amazon choosing the North Little Rock site.

"I can't answer that because I can't speak to what their thought process was," he said. "But this is yet another example of companies looking at Arkansas and central Arkansas in this case in particular as a place for distribution."

Amazon facility in North Little Rock

Metro on 09/12/2018