Traverse City News and Events

Amazon Appears Headed To Traverse City

By Beth Milligan | Oct. 18, 2023

All signs point to e-commerce giant Amazon planning an expansion into Traverse City – what would be the company’s first Michigan location north of Saginaw. Construction plans submitted to Grand Traverse County Construction Code and viewed by The Ticker show a new facility planned on US-31 west of Menards. Though Amazon is not officially named on documents, which refer only to an incoming “tenant,” the details of the project – including the listed developer, architect, and civil engineering firm, plus schematics for a “last-mile” delivery center with a fleet of delivery vans – are identical to other Amazon facilities in the Midwest.

The new facility, listed as “Project Northstar” in documents, is planned for vacant land on the south side of US-31 across from West Commerce Drive in Blair Township (pictured). That property is represented by realtor James Schmuckal and is currently listed as a “pending” sale with a stated price of $2,613,600. Schmuckal confirms the property is “under contract and in the advance process of due diligence,” though he declined to comment on the buyer’s identity or the contract terms.

Construction documents show a 75,150-square-foot facility (including canopy) planned for the site that will be “designed to provide last-mile delivery of both parcel volume and heavy/bulky packages directly to the tenant’s customers.” Amazon has been aggressively building out its last-mile infrastructure in recent years, opening distribution centers that serve as key hubs to more quickly get products from warehouse shelves to customers’ doorsteps.

According to documents, products will arrive at the facility “prepackaged in cardboard boxes and labeled for shipping within local neighborhoods.” Packages will be taken out for delivery in either in-house vans or in the personal vehicles of contracted drivers – another hallmark Amazon program called Amazon Flex in which the company hires independent local drivers, similar to Uber or Lyft. Drawings show extensive van parking, loading zones, sorting and storage space, and several areas labeled as “associate” spaces – the term Amazon uses for its employees.

Documents do not list the number of employees that will be on-site – other Amazon last-mile facilities have started with 50-100 jobs up to several hundred or more, depending on the community – but mention other staffing specifics. The facility will be staffed with “full-time leadership personnel and part-time employees who work up to 30 hours weekly,” documents state. “Employees are on site for induct, sort, and staging activities in one to five-hour shifts, the majority of which occur between 9:30am and 2pm.”

For a site that is “fully operational,” documents continue, “there are more than ten unique shift options corresponding to the number of operational cycles. Of the total headcount at this location, approximately five percent are full-time managers, and the remaining 95 percent are part-time employees.”

Amazon declined to comment on the planned facility to The Ticker. Three key firms listed on the construction documents – owner/developer Ambrose Property Group, architect CESO, and civil engineering firm Kimley-Horn – have all been involved in multiple other Amazon projects. CESO and Kimley-Horn did not return requests for comment. Ambrose Property Group did not address whether Amazon is the planned tenant for its site, but shared the following written statement:

“Ambrose Property Group submitted plans for a proposed light-industrial facility for the mentioned property. This project is located in Blair Township near Traverse City. That request is currently under review. At this time, we are unable to provide further details beyond our permit application request.” Ambrose’s website shows multiple Amazon delivery and fulfillment centers among its projects across the Midwest.

According to Building Official Bruce Remai, Grand Traverse County Construction Code is waiting for an official address to be assigned to the property and for full-size drawings to arrive in his office. Once that occurs, the plan review process for the project will begin. “With our current workload, the plan review will take approximately two to three weeks to complete as long as the drawings are complete and do not require any changes/corrections to be made,” he says. “Once the plan review is completed and the drawings are approved, it will then move into the permitting stage.”

Building permits can only be issued once all other required permits have been issued, including land use, soil erosion, driveway, and water and sewer permits, in addition to fire department approval, Remai says. “Once we receive approvals from all of the above, the building permit will be issued and construction can begin,” he says.

Blair Township Supervisor Nicole Blonshine says she heard a potential distribution center was coming to the area, but hadn’t yet heard it might be Amazon. “I think that could be huge for Blair Township,” she says. “It's exciting they would even look here. If it is Amazon, I think that Blair Township and Amazon would be great community partners.”

Amazon is the second-largest employer in the U.S. behind Walmart, according to CNBC, and had approximately 1.46 million employees worldwide as of the second quarter this year. The company recently announced its warehouse and delivery employees will now make $20.50 an hour on average, up from $19 an hour previously. While the number, type, and wages of jobs that could come to Traverse City if an Amazon facility opens here all remain to be seen, the significance of the company potentially choosing this area as its next expansion location speaks to the region’s reputation as a growth center, says President and CEO Warren Call of Traverse Connect.

“In general, we’re certainly in favor of any project or opportunity that’s bringing more jobs to the area,” he says. “We always want to see more jobs and more high-quality jobs, so if someone is providing those, we try to be industry agnostic. What it does say is that our region is a growth center not only for the state of Michigan, but the Midwest. And I think this is a reflection that large organizations are investing in our area because they see that we are a growth center.”

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