The checkered flag is out on Project Speedway, with online retailer Amazon first across the finish line.
The governor’s office announced Wednesday that Amazon will locate a robotics fulfillment center in the 2.6 million-square-foot industrial complex that Texas-based Hillwood Enterprises is planning on land north of Richmond Raceway.
The center is expected to create 1,000 jobs, despite the robotics technology involved with the facility. It’s slated to start operations in 2022 and will be the first of its kind in Central Virginia. A similar facility, in Suffolk, was announced last year and is slated to open later this year.
Wednesday’s announcement confirms Amazon’s involvement with the development, codenamed Project Speedway. The five-story building, which is based off a 650,000-square-foot footprint, is one of several across the country that Hillwood has developed with the online retailer signed on as a tenant.
The building will rise on a 120-acre portion of the 247-acre site, which straddles Richmond Henrico Turnpike and has been used for overflow parking for the raceway. Last week, the raceway sold that 120-acre plot, at 5901 Richmond Henrico Turnpike, to Hillwood for $7.7 million.
The rest of the land, at 5900 Richmond Henrico Turnpike, remained under raceway ownership as of Wednesday, according to Henrico property records. The county most recently assessed that property at $1.5 million. The 5901 property, where site work for the project is already underway, was assessed at $2.9 million.
The announcement did not specify how much Amazon plans to invest in the facility. A spokeswoman said the company is not disclosing that figure.
“I can tell you we’re excited about the great jobs we have created across the state, which offer competitive pay and comprehensive benefits starting on day one,” spokeswoman Courtney Norman said. “We are proud to call Virginia home and will continue to invest in the state, and in the communities in which our employees live and work.”
Norman said the facility’s robotics technology is designed to assist the employees who will work alongside the machines to sort through, package and ship smaller goods such as books, electronics and household items. She said the robots are not intended to ultimately replace the employees.
“It really impacts the way that our employees perform their day-to-day jobs,” Norman said. “It makes it easier for them, because they’re working with that assisted and collaborative technology to extend the human reach, and it also frees up their time for more skilled tasks.”
The project came about through coordination with the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, the Henrico Economic Development Authority, the Port of Virginia and the Greater Richmond Partnership.
Anthony Romanello, executive director of the Henrico EDA, said the process started last year when the raceway and Hillwood approached the county about rezoning the land for industrial development, leading to a rezoning application that was filed last fall.
“Hillwood has done a number of projects with Amazon and with NASCAR. That’s the marriage, if you will, of bringing these three groups together,” Romanello said, adding that Amazon was brought into the picture once the rezoning was approved.
Hillwood, based in Dallas, is led by Ross Perot Jr., the son of the late businessman and 1990s presidential candidate Ross Perot Sr. It has developed dozens of industrial projects all over the country and in Poland, with several of its more recent projects being built for Amazon.
In March of last year, Hillwood and NASCAR announced an exclusive arrangement to improve surplus land in the auto racing company’s real estate portfolio, with an initial focus on 13 markets across the country. The companies said at the time that a goal of developing the un-utilized land was to create jobs and increase wealth in communities where NASCAR operates.
Romanello lauded the efforts of all of the parties involved in bringing the Richmond Raceway project together.
“This project is about jobs for Henrico families. We’re proud to be No. 2 in Virginia for total jobs, and coming out of the pandemic, it’s never been more important for the people of Henrico and Central Virginia to have good employment opportunities,” Romanello said. “It’s partnerships like these that will help us grow our economy.”
Amazon is eligible for benefits from the Port of Virginia Economic and Infrastructure Development Zone Grant Program and the Virginia Enterprise Zone Program. Support for employee training will be provided through the Virginia Jobs Investment Program.
The facility will add to two other fulfillment centers that Amazon operates in the region: at 1901 Meadowville Technology Parkway in Chesterfield County, and at 5000 Commerce Way in Dinwiddie County. Those centers employ more than 1,100 people combined and each stand at around 1 million square feet.
Other Amazon facilities in the region include a distribution center at 4949 Commerce Road in Richmond. The company also leases two 320,000-square-foot buildings, in Chesterfield at 1601 Bellwood Road and in Hanover in the Exchange at Northlake Industrial Park. Both of those buildings were built by developer Devon USA.
Amazon has previously had a presence near the raceway, in an industrial park at 4101 Carolina Ave., where third-party Amazon contractor Bear Down Logistics halted operations after Amazon cut ties with the company. Henrico-based Allegiance Logistics currently coordinates Amazon deliveries at the raceway, with a truck staging area set up across the street from the planned fulfillment center site.