Amazon is scoping out three Seattle sites for possible warehouses, according to permitting documents filed Monday with the city.
The documents are labeled “preliminary in nature,” indicating Amazon is likely inquiring about the feasibility of building warehouses on multiple sites with an eye to pursuing at least one of them. Amazon did not respond to questions.
The plans, though, sparked alarm among mass-transit and affordable-housing advocates who are concerned that Amazon’s proposals for warehouses near the Mount Baker light-rail station on Rainier Avenue South could snap up land they say would be better used for housing.
Those plans propose replacing the Lowe’s home improvement store and adjoining Pepsi plant just north of the light-rail station with two small-scale warehouses spanning 220,000 square feet on 23 acres of land.
Neither Lowe’s nor PepsiCo immediately responded to questions about whether they are planning to shut down those active operations.
But David Hsiao, who manages and co-owns the Lowe’s building, said the ownership group has “not had any discussions with Amazon regarding the redevelopment of our property.” Amazon currently occupies a small office space above Lowe’s, used in part for product photo shoots. Prologis, which owns the Pepsi plant, did not respond to questions.
Amazon is also exploring building a distribution center on the site of a former Interbay factory, the permitting documents show. The company would demolish the inactive Northwest Industries glass-manufacturing plant to build a 100,000-square-foot, multilevel warehouse, similar to a Georgetown facility the company has occupied since its 2019 completion.
Portland investment firm ScanlanKemperBard acquired the Interbay site in December for $24 million; the firm did not immediately respond to questions about Amazon’s proposal to build a warehouse on the location. None of the three properties are publicly listed for sale, according to the Daily Journal of Commerce, which first reported Amazon’s plans.
Amazon’s Georgetown facility, also owned by Prologis, was the nation’s first multistory, truck-accessible warehouse — but far from the last. Vertical warehouse space has taken off in recent years, boosted in part by demand from online retailers clamoring to have more storage space near large metropolitan areas.
Amazon in recent years has focused on building warehouses closer to consumers, in part to enable faster delivery times; the company in 2019 promised one-day shipping for its Prime customers. A necklace of current and planned Amazon warehouses now rings Seattle, in Georgetown, Everett, SeaTac, Kent, Sumner, Tacoma, Lakewood, DuPont and Bremerton, according to logistics research firm MWPVL. Amazon announced Thursday the planned opening of a new warehouse in Arlington later this year.
Amazon typically strives to keep its name out of permit filings. The company’s name appears once on the Seattle warehouse permitting documents, though it’s not immediately visible: The documents seem to have been redacted by changing the color of some text to white to make it indistinguishable from the background. The hidden digital text appears when highlighted. One such block of text, referring to space allotted among fleets of delivery vans at the Lowe’s site, reads “NOT PER AMAZON STANDARD.”
Similar whited-out text on the documents classifies parking as “AMZL,” shorthand for Amazon Logistics, the company’s in-house delivery service; “DSP,” an acronym for contract delivery companies that bring Amazon packages to doorsteps; “Associate,” referring to warehouse workers; and “Flex,” for the small army of self-employed drivers delivering goods and groceries ordered off Amazon in their own cars. No surprise that the plans focus so much on parking: More than 700 parking spaces for cars, vans and semitrucks are envisioned for the two Rainier Avenue facilities. For the Interbay site, whited-out text indicates plans to build 673 parking stalls.
Whited-out labels on the Lowe’s and Interbay site plans indicate Amazon sees them as delivery stations, Amazon-speak for mini-warehouses near city centers where goods are stored and prepared for their final, short journey to customers’ doorsteps. The Pepsi plant is labeled as a distribution center, a catchall term for a variety of facilities shipping everything from cellphones to groceries.
Development around the Mount Baker light-rail station has been a flashpoint for more than a decade, since the city began considering increasing building-height limits along some parts of Rainier Avenue South in 2009. Proponents of building more housing near mass-transit hubs have long championed replacing some of the big box stores that line Rainier Avenue with apartment buildings, and taking steps to cut down on congestion and collisions along the busy arterial.
Building an Amazon warehouse on Rainier Avenue would be a major step backward from the city’s ambitions to develop housing and reduce traffic — and pedestrian casualties — on the thoroughfare, The Urbanist executive director Doug Trumm wrote in a column Thursday.
“Simply put, this plan must be stopped,” Trumm wrote. “The best Amazon can do is walk away from their Lowe’s plans, allow someone to develop it as 4,000 homes (many of them affordable), and perhaps even help finance the project as part of the company’s affordable housing campaign.”