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Construction to start on logistics park near airport; developer seeks rezoning

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M+H Architects of St. Louis, Mo. designed this one million square foot logistics center that The Rockefeller Group will build in Allen Township across from the FedEx Ground project under construction.
M+H Architects of St. Louis, Mo. designed this one million square foot logistics center that The Rockefeller Group will build in Allen Township across from the FedEx Ground project under construction.

With FedEx Ground's major East Coast hub expected to open in Allen Township next year, the owner and developer of that property is moving forward with plans for future buildings nearby to serve a growing logistics corridor.

The New York City-based The Rockefeller Group, which owns the 260-acre property north of Lehigh Valley International Airport where FedEx Ground is rising, is looking to start construction on a 1 million-square-foot logistics center on property it will own in Allen Township across from the 800,000-square-foot FedEx Ground.

It would be the first of several buildings that would comprise Rockefeller Group Logistics Park, said Clark Machemer, senior vice president and regional development officer for The Rockefeller Group’s New Jersey and Pennsylvania Group.

Rockefeller has obtained preliminary land development approval from the township and is awaiting final approvals, Machemer said. Construction should start this fall, he added. The estimated construction cost is about $400 million between the FedEx project and the 1 million-square-foot logistics center.

Also, Rockefeller will appear before the East Allen Township board of supervisors for a rezoning hearing on Aug. 16 for plans to develop more land as part of that industrial park. The vacant land is zoned for agricultural use.

Machemer said he wants the township to rezone the land to industrial use for the development of one or possibly two logistics centers. The land is owned by the Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority and in close proximity to the other properties that would be part of the industrial park.

The area is well suited for that type of development, according to Machemer.

“Any new office development is probably going to be in downtown Allentown,” Machemer said. “There’s a lot of hotels already in the area.”

With guidance from the airport authority, Machemer said, his company is looking to mitigate any perceived impacts on the project.

The development will support not only the FedEx Ground project, but all of Rockefeller’s future projects in that area, he said.

“It’s a competitive landscape out there,” Machemer said. “You really have to be efficient.”

As an example, the 1 million square foot logistics center to be constructed in Allen Township will have 40-foot ceiling height, which allows e-commerce companies to operate more efficiently, giving them the possibility to comfortably add a mezzanine, he said. Such a design also minimizes the impact on the land and the footprint of the building, he said.

“This is smart growth, we are near existing infrastructure, near the population centers of Bethlehem and Allentown,” Machemer said. “We’ve looked comprehensively at the overall project and where the best spot for traffic would be.”

The company is building out the infrastructure and road improvements and keeping it compatible with what’s happening at the airport, which is seeing growth in cargo shipments.

Indeed, the significant increase of cargo traffic at the airport is directly related to the airlines that carry freight for Amazon Prime routes.

All road improvements should be completed by next August, Machemer said. Both the Rockefeller Group and FedEx Ground are investing in the infrastructure.

These improvements include adding traffic signals, widening Race Street, Willowbrook Road and Airport Road – which are main access points – and building a new road to the project locations proposed in East Allen Township.

“It was what was needed to unlock the land and create a first-class logistics park,” Rockefeller said. “We see the benefits regionally. It can really be a key economic driver for the whole Lehigh Valley.”

Logistics centers are all about providing speed to people’s homes and serving as that “last mile” delivery system, he said. These companies are responsible for packaging and then transporting packages to customers.

“It’s not a trucking facility,” Machemer said. “You have goods coming in, they are broken down and organized, and, leveraging with FedEx, that’s the backbone of e-commerce.”

He does not have any tenants lined up. The development of the industrial park opens opportunities as a spot for tech companies and entrepreneurs to locate, people who have ideas on how to get goods to people as fast as possible, Machemer said.

“You throw in the airport, there’s a lot of stuff in that soup,” he said. “There’s so much there that it’s a puzzle, it’s the keystone of e-commerce. … It’s coming together.”

The FedEx Ground project also has room to grow. At full build-out, the facility could employ more than 3,000 and expand to 1.1 million square feet.

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Brian Pedersen

Brian Pedersen

Reporter Brian Pedersen covers construction, development, warehousing and real estate and keeps you up to date on the changing landscape of our community. He can be reached at brianp@lvb.com or 610-807-9619, ext. 4108. Follow him on Twitter @BrianLehigh and read his blog, “Can You Dig It,” at http://www.lvb.com/section/can-you-dig-it.

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