HANCOCK COUNTY — Walmart has chosen Hancock County to build one of the largest distribution centers in the country, according to a published report.

The 2.2 million-square-foot facility near Indianapolis Regional Airport in Mt. Comfort is expected to serve as a hub for the retail giant’s e-commerce operations, according to an article published Wednesday, June 10, in the Indianapolis Business Journal.

The Bentonville, Arkansas-based company is developing the facility at 5300 W. County Road 500N on about 204 acres in an unincorporated part of the county, two industry sources told IBJ.

The facility is expected to feature 146 docks and parking for 1,985 cars and up to 916 trailers, according to public filings.

“This is the largest out-of-the-gate industrial distribution building that’s been constructed in the Indianapolis market,” Jared Scaringe, an industrial broker with the Indianapolis office of CBRE who is not connected to the project, told IBJ.

He said Walmart’s distribution facility in Plainfield, which opened in 2015, totals about 2 million square feet, but consists of two buildings.

The Hancock County center would be directly north of the airport. A development cost for the project has not yet been made public, and the sources said they were uncertain of such a figure, the IBJ reported.

Walmart also has distribution centers in Greencastle and Gas City, IBJ noted. The company already has a presence in Greenfield, with a regional return center that opened about a decade ago. That facility was operated by logistics firm DHL until 2018 — when Walmart moved its return operations back in-house and took over the center — employing about 500 people at that time. Walmart’s affiliated Sam’s Club also has a distribution center in Greenfield.

Walmart isn’t alone in its efforts to expand in Hancock County, IBJ’s report continues. Amazon announced in February plans to open a 680,000-square-foot distribution facility on County Road 300N, which is now under construction by Ambrose Property Group. That project will employ from 800 and to 1,000 people.

Zoning variances for the proposed 2.2-million-square-foot Mt. Comfort facility were approved May 29 by the Hancock County Board of Zoning Appeals, but Walmart’s affiliation with the development has not been confirmed publicly. The Daily Reporter reported on the variances at the time they were approved.

Randy Sorrell, executive director of the Hancock Economic Development Council, said during the meeting the company is “well-known” and experienced in large-scale projects. He did not immediately comment on the IBJ report on Wednesday. On Thursday, noting IBJ did not identify the industry sources indicating Walmart is behind the project, Sorrell told the Daily Reporter that he could not appropriately respond because he doesn’t know who the sources are or exactly what they said.

“Based on what I saw, it’s a great rumor,” Sorrell said. “Forget the name that (IBJ) used of the company; I will tell you that whoever that company is, they are still in negotiations. We are a long ways from any announcement of a project, if at all. Are we working on a project? Yes, we are working on a project.”

Sorrell added he didn’t have anything else to offer publicly other than what he said at the Hancock County Board of Zoning Appeals meeting last month.

“Nothing has changed since that night,” he said. “We’re in the midst of a lot of discussion about a potential project, but the identity I can’t comment on.”

A third party, Tennessee-based Carlson Consulting Engineers Inc. — which counts Walmart among its clients — has served as a middleman for the project, according to filings. A Carlson representative said during the zoning appeals meeting the company could not provide a date for when construction would begin, as some details are still being finalized.

A Walmart spokesperson told IBJ and the Daily Reporter the company had “no news to report in the Greenfield area at this time.”

The variances allow the project to exceed the 50-foot height restriction (85 feet); exceed the 30-foot light pole restriction (35 feet); reduce parking space sizes by one foot in width; and reduce side-yard setbacks from 25 feet to 10 feet.

Carmel-based firm Becknell Industrial, which controls the site, is building two speculative structures directly south of the proposed Walmart facility, IBJ’s report continues. Those buildings, 260,000 square feet and 390,000 square feet, are expected to break ground later this year.

“We’re looking at different deals, and we’re bullish on these spec buildings and their future development,” Jake Sturman, managing director and industrial broker with the Indianapolis office of JLL, who represents Becknell, told IBJ. “Hancock County is the bright, shining light within the east side industrial market. I think speculative development has been fundamentally really strong over the years, (and) it hasn’t been overbuilt.”

Sturman declined to comment on the Walmart portion of the project — including identifying the firm as the end-user — other than to say the building would be owned by its operator, not Becknell, and that the firm is “excited about supporting” the distribution center development.

It is not clear whether the project will receive local or state incentives. The Indiana Economic Development Corp. declined to comment to IBJ.

Carlson Consulting did not return messages from IBJ or the Daily Reporter requesting comment.
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