PONTIAC, Mich. - Tech giant Amazon sent shockwaves throughout Pontiac as it was revealed this week that it's expected to develop the site of the Silverdome into a distribution center as part of a $250 million project that would bring 1,500 jobs.
The first steps in the plans to develop the 127-acre site were discussed during a Pontiac Planning Commission meeting on Wednesday night.
The commission approved a special-exemption permit for the site to be used as a warehouse, distribution and fulfillment campus, according to the city. It would be Amazon's first location in the nation to have both a fulfillment center and delivery station. It would be the second robotics fulfillment center in Michigan.
A final decision on closing the deal is likely months away, but plan details call for a proposed 199,000-square-foot delivery station to be operational by the third quarter of 2020, the city said. The 820,000-square-foot fulfillment center was expected to be running a year later. Construction is expected to begin within the final three months of 2019.
Wages would start at $15 an hour for both the more than 1,500 full-time and more than 100 part-time associates, Pontiac representatives said. An additional 500 full-time employees could be hired during the peak season.
The complex also would support 100 salaried employees making more than $60,000 per year and 40 making more than $80,000 per year.
Commission members reviewed project renderings and approved a preliminary site plan at Wednesday's meeting.
Though more steps are ahead, the Planning Commission signaled there's support for meeting Amazon's timeline.
"We hope this all goes according to plan," said Dayne Thomas, the Planning Commission chair.
Pontiac Mayor Deirdre Waterman called the potential deal a "great match."
"The former Silverdome site is an ideal location and Pontiac is poised with a ready workforce," she said in a statement. "Landing Amazon will bolster Pontiac's continued economic success and further our pipeline of pairing industry with talent."
Atlanta-based Seefried Industrial Properties is under contract to buy the site to build two facilities that would be leased by Amazon, according to the city.
Waterman said she couldn't go into detail due to a non-disclosure agreement, but that Amazon officials approached the city several months ago with their plans.
"Once they came in in the last several months, we moved very quickly because they were ready to meet some deadlines that they had in terms of when the wanted to have the facility up and running and fulfill the needs of their delivery and customer satisfaction," she said.
Representatives for the Seattle-based e-commerce behemoth did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
According to WWJ-AM (950), Amazon representative Ryan Wilson on Wednesday said: "We want to be a part of your community, and we want to answer questions and be as transparent as possible throughout this process," Wilson said. "Because this is a historic site, this is a significant site for this community."
Wilson noted the online retail doesn't typically reveal itself at this point of one of its planned projects.
"We have a long ways to go, but because this site is so important to this community, we thought it was the right thing to do to be transparent."
Pontiac residents on Thursday expressed their delight that Amazon could be moving to town.
Resident Annie Lewis, 80, said she thinks it will attract more people to move to Pontiac.
"It's very exciting," she said. "It's going to bring growth to Pontiac. Business, money, you know, jobs."
The Amazon complex could mean jobs for residents like Wendy Williams, 53. The unemployed student says she would apply for a $15-an-hour job.
"I can live off of it," she said. "I have no one but me. My children are gone, and there's no one but me to support. I can sustain off of it."
But Councilman Randy Carter worries Amazon might deploy the use of more artificial intelligence than people on the campus.
"I would like to see what the economic stimulus would be for the city other than jobs," Carter said. "Maybe paying property tax on the 180 acres of the former Silverdome could maybe justify and satisfy my palate. At least I could see economic growth."
Councilwoman Doris Taylor Burks said she learned of the Amazon plans this week.
"We had been hoping that someone would purchase and develop it," she said. "It had been sitting too long. I never dreamed that it would be a company like that. I know it made me very happy."
Opened in 1975, the Silverdome once hosted sports events and entertainment acts. It once served as home to the Pistons and Detroit Lions.
Over the years, the popular, 80,000-seat stadium hosted Elvis on New Year's Eve in 1975, Super Bowl XVI and the 1979 NBA All-Star Game. In 1987 it welcomed Wrestlemania III, noted for the largest recorded attendance at a live indoor sporting event, and a visit from Pope John Paul II.
After the Pistons and Lions left by 2002, the Silverdome sank into disrepair and never recovered.
The city of Pontiac sold the site at auction in 2009 amid its financial emergency to Canadian investment firm Triple Properties Inc., which made a few attempts at staging events.
The firm auctioned off parts of its interior, including seats, and shuttered the property in 2014. A court agreement led the stadium eventually to be imploded in December 2017 a second time after a first failed attempt.
(Staff writers Candice Williams and Evan Carter contributed.)
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