Plan for massive warehouse Dallas County's Woodward shrouded in Amazon-like secrecy
The Woodward City Council approved plans for an enormous warehouse and distribution facility to be build in their rural town of 1,346 people in the northwest corner of Dallas County.
Code named Project Hawk, the facility is planned for the Woodward Eco-Business Park on 120 acres just south of Iowa Highway 141 and has all the signs of an Amazon project.
The 1.08 million-square-foot structure, classified as a traditional non-sort facility, would have the largest single-floor footprint of any warehouse ever built in the Des Moines metro, according to research by JLL, an international commercial real estate brokerage with an office in Des Moines. It would surpass a 857,000-square-foot Bridgestone warehouse in Saylorville.
An Amazon fulfillment center in Bondurant has 2.7 million square feet of floor space, but it’s divided among multiple smaller floors.
The Project Hawk facility, approved Monday, also would have 98 loading docks and parking spots for 392 semi-trailer trucks and 727 other vehicles.
Alex Lynch, executive director of the Greater Dallas County Development Alliance which oversees the Woodward Eco-Business Park, said he and others affiliated with Project Hawk signed non-disclosure agreements preventing them from revealing the name of the company behind the facility.
“We're very excited about this project, the potential for it and the partnership with the company," Lynch said. "This project is not completed yet. We're still working through some things. But the tax base that this would bring would be substantial and the amount of jobs would create new opportunities for residents and really the entire Des Moines metro area."
Lynch said construction is expected to begin this fall and is estimated to be complete by September 2022.
An Amazon spokesperson declined to comment on the company's plans.
But the project resembles the pattern followed in development of previous Amazon facilities across the state. The Bondurant’s fulfillment center, which opened in 2019, was announced under a code name — Project Bluejay, a nod to the Bondurant–Farrar Community School District mascot — and the company required local officials to sign non-disclosure agreements.
The Des Moines Register was able to establish that it likely belonged to Amazon when they obtained documents relating to the project that quoted a description of the company and gave an employee count that precisely matched those on the retail behemoth’s website.
There were similar attempts to shroud the company’s identity as it sought approval for other facilities, including another fulfillment center planned in Davenport.
Lynch said the developers of Project Hawk collectively agreed on the code name, likely a nod to the Woodward-Granger High School mascot, a hawk.
The center could handle large items, Amazon veteran says
Fulfillment centers, the largest of Amazon's facilities, are classified as either sortable or non-sortable. The Bondurant fulfillment center is a sortable facility where workers hand package smaller items such as books, toys, clothes or houseware for shipping.
Mike Grella, Amazon's former director of economic development and founder of Grella Partnership Strategies, said Friday that because the company already has an existing sortable facility in Bondurant, the sprawling 1,080,300 square foot Project Hawk development — if it is indeed Amazon's — could be a non-sortable facility. He said it would handle larger goods such as flat screen TVs and furniture.
"It makes sense if this is a million square feet then this going to be a non-sortable," Grella said. "They already have space for pushing out the smaller items, usually the ones that you're going to get overnight or even same-day delivery on, so it makes sense to put a non-sortable in as well."
The site for the planned structure is about 15 miles on the four-lane Highway 141 from an Amazon delivery center in Grimes.
Marc Wulfraat, president of Canada-based supply chain consulting firm MWPVL International Inc. and an avid watcher of Amazon, said the company currently has 38 non-sortable fulfillment centers under construction. He compared Project Hawk to a similar facility being built in Canton, Ohio.
"The small, sortable fulfillment centers are much more expensive to build and significantly more automated," Wulfraat said.
He said the new facility would enable same-day shipping for customers within about a 45-minute drive, "but for the most part orders from these facilities are one- or two-day."
Amazon facilities arrived in Iowa in 2018, when the company opened an 18,000-square-foot delivery center in North Liberty near Iowa City. It began a massive expansion the following year, beginning with construction of the fulfillment center in Bondurant.
Since then, it has built or opened:
- A 247,591-square-foot delivery center in Iowa City.
- A 110,000-square-foot delivery center in Grimes.
- A 278,000-square-foot sortation center in Bondurant, adjacent to the fulfillment center.
- A 137,000-square-foot warehouse in Ankeny.
Under construction are the fulfillment center in Davenport and a 270,000-square-foot sortation center in Council Bluffs.
Hannah Rodriguez covers retail for the Register. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @byherodriguez.