Amazon, Google expand E. Mesa footprint

Article originally posted on HERE on June 19, 2023


The Elliot Road Technology Corridor inside the Loop 202 freeway is mostly former dairy and alfalfa farm land.

Motorists driving this stretch of Elliot Road get a more rustic feel than the portion of Elliot north of Eastmark and east of the 202.

But with a flurry of activity this month, the inside-the-loop part of Elliot Road started catching up with the corridor to the east.

On June 9, Amazon celebrated the grand opening of its 1.2-million-square-foot storage and distribution center at the northwest corner of Elliot Road and the 202.

The developer originally planned two large industrial buildings, but Amazon, the long-term lessee, requested the buildings be combined.

The architects for the project created the current mega-building, which Amazon says is the largest storage and distribution center in the U.S.

The company says it’s the first “major” Amazon facility east of Central Avenue in Phoenix.

Down Elliot Road to the west of the new Amazon facility, Google is getting ready to break ground on the first phase of its massive, $1 billion Red Hawk data center campus.

The highly vaunted project was first approved by the city council in 2019.

Google received the greenlight last week from Mesa’s Design Review Board on its plans for a 288,000-square-foot data hall. It’s the first phase of a total 750,000 square feet of development on the 186-acre site, once an alfalfa field.

The design hearing gave the public its first look at details of the secretive project, but even at this stage of the process, the company is taking steps to protect information about it.

When the first Google data hall is complete, the formerly rural area will have two of the largest companies in the U.S. anchoring it, giving the corridor an auspicious start.

Nearly 2 mile perimeter

Officials with Amazon said the Mesa facility launched four weeks ago when it began receiving inbound-only deliveries to fill up its rows of tall metal shelves, which seem to go on forever inside the building.

Amazon said the center will serve as an intermediary between its largest warehouses where products are stored in bulk and the fulfillment centers where orders are packed for final delivery.

Intermediate facilities like this are important for keeping high-volume items in stock and holding products closer to customers, enabling the company to deliver packages in a day or two instead of four or five days.

The warehouse is one large open space, but it’s so vast that it’s difficult to make out the opposite wall of the building while standing at one end.

Mayor John Giles, who toured a small part of the building along with other city officials, joked that he could see “the curvature of the Earth” inside the warehouse.

Christina Matus, senior operation manager for Amazon, said a recent inspection walk of the building perimeter was 1.7 miles long.

The site managers have made the building’s mascot the jackalope, and images of the mythical creature appear throughout the warehouse, adding a bit of levity to the behemoth center.

Soon the facility will move into phase 2 of its opening as it ramps up hiring.

The Mesa facility currently has 650 employees, with plans to eventually employ 800 to 1,300 workers at full operation.

Full-time employees work four 10-hour shifts per week, Amazon managers said.

Site Lead Rodney Huffman, a graduate of Mesa High, said the distribution center has been meeting all of its hiring targets so far.

The launch of the facility is “going fantastic,” he said.

As officials toured the facility during the grand opening, several new employees were being trained on the company’s Power Industrial Trucks.

The trucks comprise a key component of the operations as they are designed to navigate the rows of shelves and move employees up and down to retrieve product.

Company officials boasted high-tech safety features, like LIDAR sensors, which help the trucks navigate the aisles and prevent accidents.

In Arizona, Amazon has 17 fulfillment and sortation centers, 13 delivery stations and more than 33,000 full-and part-time employees.

Red Hawk rising

In 2019, the Mesa City Council approved a development agreement and tax incentive program with Google to develop the data center campus on Elliot and Sossaman roads, but there’s been little visible movement on the project until last week’s design review hearing.

Because the project is within an Employment Opportunity Zone overlay, it will be able to move forward with an administrative review and does not need to go before council.

By the terms its development agreement with the city, Google must meet development milestones. It faces a July 2025 deadline for 250,000 square feet of development and $600 million in capital investment.

The building in phase 1 considered by the design review board will meet that requirement if Google can get it built in two years.

According to the agreement, the average salary of all full-time employees on the project must be $65,000 per year.

In return, the city is allocating 1,120 acre-feet of water initially and up to 4,480 acre-feet at buildout, promising as well  “sufficient emergency back-up supplies for water.”

Water is important for data centers as an efficient means of moving heat away from servers. Data centers use a lot of water, but the industry is trying to develop technology to reduce its water demands.

The city is sweetening the deal for Google with a $16 million tax break over the next 25 years, which Mesa believes will be far exceeded by construction sales tax, electricity sales tax and personal property tax generated by the data center.

Google submitted site plans ahead of the hearing, but according to the project narrative, “proprietary information regarding the equipment in the server halls has been removed from the drawings due to intellectual property concerns.”

“The client would be willing to disclose the design of this area in an in-person non-public review meeting,” the document continued.

The internal features of buildings are blocked out in gray on the architectural drawings submitted to the city.

Security features of the data hall include a 10-foot wall surrounding the project, a gated entry and guard shack.

In the site plans submitted by Google, designers have added interest to industrial buildings with metal accents and LED lights, some of which casts dramatic shadows on the side of the building at night.

One member of the public who lives near the project submitted a comment card with concerns about how the data center use would impact the single-family neighborhood to the north and whether there would be noise or visibility impacts.

Issues related to the land use of the project are outside the purview of the design review board, which is focused on the appearance of a project.

“I think it’s a nice approach to what we often see as a fairly large, concrete-type building,” board member Dane Astle said.

Much of the discussion focused on the landscaping, which some board members thought was awkward and relied too much on pine trees, which use more water than other species.

Board member Tanner Green summed up the board’s sentiment on the first phase, “We’re looking forward to this project.”