A closed Army base south of Atlanta is being transformed into a state-of-the-art logistics campus.
ROBINSON WEEKS Partners is spearheading the development of Gillem Logistics Center on the site of the former Fort Gillem Army Base. The 1,168-acre master-planned logistics center can accommodate more than 8 million square feet of e-commerce fulfillment centers and distribution facilities. Gillem Logistics Center offers unparalleled access, a strategic location and multiyear tax incentives, providing a unique opportunity for companies looking to enhance their logistics networks. After more than 10 years — from conception to groundbreaking — of planning and bringing together various stakeholders at each step of the redevelopment process, Robinson Weeks and the surrounding community are excited to make this world-class logistics hub a reality.
Named for Lt. Gen. Alvan C. Gillem Jr., Fort Gillem opened in 1941 and was home to the First U.S. Army, the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command and a number of other federal agencies and organizations. In 2005, the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC) recommended and the U.S. Congress approved the closure of Fort Gillem. Six years later, 1,168 acres of the base’s total 1,427 acres were closed and declared surplus.The Army is retaining the remaining 259-acre enclave, which still houses its Criminal Investigation Crime Lab.
In 2007, Forest Park Development Partners LLC, a partnership between Robinson Weeks Partners and Starwood Capital, was named master developer for the property. The partnership’s original charge was to assist the City of Forest Park Urban Redevelopment Agency (URA) with the process established by the BRAC Commission to demonstrate that the local community had the strategy, means and capabilities necessary to redevelop Fort Gillem. Robinson Weeks led the effort to establish an economically viable master plan, business plan and implementation progam. The key goal of these plans was to generate new jobs to replace the 1,500 jobs that were lost when the base closed. Over the ensuing seven years, the URA submitted numerous required applications, including a comprehensive reuse plan, a business plan and an economic development conveyance (EDC) application to the Army to support the redevelopment plan. The Army formally approved the EDC application in 2013, which allowed and approved the transfer of Fort Gillem to the URA. Nearly 800 acres of Fort Gillem officially transferred from the Department of the Army to the URA in June 2014. The remaining property will transfer in phases over the next few years. The URA took title to the property fee simple from the Army and negotiated terms to make payments totaling $30 million over seven years.
As soon as the first land transfer was complete, the URA and Forest Park Development Partners sold more than 250 acres to the Kroger Co. for a regional distribution campus. The proceeds from the Kroger sale allowed the URA to make its initial payment to the Army and to issue bonds to fund new infrastructure, including a four-lane divided parkway and new utilities.
The Gillem Logistics Center master plan calls for a 10-year development horizon. The center aims to add approximately 800,000 square feet of new buildings every year, though market conditions may speed up the development timing. When completed, the center will be a world-class, institutional-grade regional distribution park. Upon closing the land with Kroger, work began in earnest on the infrastructure, which is scheduled to be complete in early 2016. Nearly $10 million worth of improvements have been or will be completed, including a new four-lane divided parkway and the following:
Kroger has already developed a regional distribution center that began operations in summer 2015. “Kroger is excited to open a 1 million-square-foot distribution center in Gillem Logistics Center. The strategic location will allow Kroger to better service our existing operations in Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee,” says Glynn Jenkins, director of communications and public relations for Kroger’s Atlanta Division. Kroger plans to invest $200 million into the new distribution facility over the next five years. The facility is expected to create 120 new jobs, including warehouse, security, transportation management and other maintenance positions. Ultimately, Kroger may develop over 2 million square feet of distribution buildings on its campus in Gillem.
In early 2015, Robinson Weeks demolished several 1940s-era Army warehouses to make way for an 848,000-square-foot speculative industrial building. The structure, which will be complete in summer 2016, will be able to accommodate one user or multiple users with 36-foot clear height ceilings, dedicated entries and abundant truck trailer storage.
The developer has made sustainability a priority during the center’s development process. It plans to recycle a majority of the existing structures’ concrete and steel, thereby reducing waste and material costs. Of the nearly 3 million square feet of Army buildings that were demolished to make way for the first two buildings, more than 80 percent of the materials were recycled and thus diverted from local landfills. Concrete from floors and foundations was mixed with bricks and crushed for structural fill used in the Kroger and Robinson Weeks buildings. Asphalt millings were used for base material in entries and roads. Steel columns, trusses and girders, as well as copper piping, were recycled locally.
The development of Gillem Logistics Center is expected to have a transformative effect on the city of Forest Park. Fort Gillem’s nearly 1,500 acres, which encompassed more than 30 percent of the city’s land base, had been federally owned and therefore off the city’s tax roles. The now privately owned property is being returned to the city’s tax base, which will enhance its schools, emergency services, transit, community centers and more. Additionally, the center’s buildout will have a direct and positive impact on the city’s efforts to revitalize Main Street and the surrounding neighborhoods.
“By benefitting commerce in Forest Park, it’s not a benefit simply to a faceless … corporation. It has impact on real people, it is real jobs, it is real revenue for the city of Forest Park,” said Forest Park Mayor David Lockhart at the Gillem Logistics Center groundbreaking ceremony on Aug. 14, 2014. “It is projected that we can perhaps double Forest Park’s tax base, we can lower the marginal tax rate on our existing businesses and we can still bring in even more revenue to provide better services than we are already providing.”
Gillem Logistics Center is making the most of a truly unique, irreplaceable location. The property is located within 4.5 miles of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL), the world’s busiest airport. It is 12 miles southeast of downtown Atlanta and near three major interstate highways, I-285 (known locally as the Perimeter), I-75 and I-85. The area surrounding the Army base was developed over the last 75 years, leaving a “doughnut hole” just outside the Perimeter. Few other major metropolitan areas have this much industrial land this close to their city center. Gillem Logistics Center should attract e-commerce companies wanting a location that allows them to make same-day deliveries to metro Atlanta.
The center’s location also makes it an attractive facility for distribution companies wanting to be close to the interstate highways for local and regional deliveries. Atlanta’s southside also provides strategic proximity to the Port of Savannah and a shorter travel distance for distributors serving Florida. The center’s location within Clayton County gives users special tax incentives that no other county in the Atlanta metropolitan area can provide. The Georgia Department of Community Affairs has designated Clayton County as a Tier 1 county. The state therefore offers up to $4,000 per job per year in tax credits for up to five years against state withholding taxes for qualifying jobs. The state also offers other job creation and investment incentives. In addition, the city of Forest Park is structuring long-term tax abatement packages for users that locate within Gillem Logistics Center. The city’s development authority issued bonds for Kroger’s facility to support its development.
Finally, the center is located within the federally approved service area of Foreign Trade Zone (FTZ) #26, associated with the Atlanta Port of Entry at ATL. Foreign trade zones help businesses reduce production, transaction and logistics-related costs by lowering effective duty rates, allowing special entry procedures and encouraging production closer to market. The FTZ program provides customs relief and support for U.S. businesses whose operations include import and export activities.
When the tax incentives and abatement packages are realized, Gillem Logistics Center will offer one of the lowest overall operating costs in the metro area. These factors — location and incentives — drove Kroger to chose Gillem Logistics Center for its distribution campus and will provide the impetus for other Fortune 500 companies to follow.
Gillem Logistics Center is also expected to become a catalyst for more new development in Forest Park and Atlanta’s entire southside. The community is excited to see the project move into the construction phase, bringing the city and the region one step closer to the new jobs and additional revenue that will come as a result of this distribution park. “It is good to see this property being able to be used for other purposes,” said Georgia Governor Nathan Deal at the center’s groundbreaking ceremony. “It is the beginning of what hopefully are many other opportunities for development [that] will follow.”