Agencies Hunt for ‘Phenomenal’ TJX Project

Agencies Seek Sites for ‘Phenomenal’ TJX Project

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The 1.2-million-square-foot regional distribution center that TJX Companies Inc. wants to develop is “a phenomenal project,” but one that isn’t easy to accommodate, acknowledged T. Sharon Woodberry, director of community planning and economic development of the city of Youngstown.

That doesn’t mean she and other members of the economic development and political communities aren’t trying.

“The community really wants to see this happen. It is a phenomenal project,” Woodberry remarked Monday.

When Youngstown officials received the initial request for potential sites from the Regional Chamber, there were no city sites available that met the company’s needs, Woodberry said.

By comparison, the former Toys R Us warehouse at the Salt Springs Business Park is 442,000 square feet, she said. The warehouse is on a 45-acre site and the park itself is 135 acres in its entirety, so it “would not even have come up as a possibility” in response to the initial inquiry.

“It’s a very massive project,” Woodberry said. Given recent developments – and the prospect that the Valley could lose the project entirely – the city is again looking at whether there is anything available in terms of a potential site. “We just have not been able to locate anything yet,” she said.

TJX Companies Inc. announced Friday – in the face of vocal opposition from a group of Lordstown residents – it was withdrawing its application to rezone land in the village where it wanted to build the $160 million warehouse.

The company had ale agreements in place for about 290 acres in the village near the Ohio Turnpike, and the village planning commission Wednesday was to consider its request to rezone seven parcels from residential to industrial.

The distribution center would service TJX’s HomeGoods stores. A TJX/HomeGoods spokeswoman Monday said the company had no further comment beyond its Friday statement.

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan and Sarah Boyarko, senior vice president of economic development for the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, both said Monday that multiple sites in the Valley are under active consideration, and both say they are in regular contact with company representatives.

In addition, a site in Mercer County, Pa. that TJX looked at before is getting another look, a western Pennsylvania economic development specialist said.

During a conference call Monday afternoon, Ryan, D-13 Ohio, confirmed that TJX was no longer considering its original Lordstown site but was reviewing other Valley possibilities, including others in Lordstown.

Opponents of TJX’s preferred site have called for using other property in the village, including at the Ohio Commerce Center. However, Dan Crouse, broker with Routh-Hurlbert Real Estate Co., Warren, said Ohio Commerce Center won’t work as a site. Routh-Hurlbert represents the industrial park.

“First of all, we’re not tearing up railroad tracks for a company that won’t use rail,” Crouse said.

Also, any building the company constructs doesn’t just have to meet the needs of today, he said. “It has to work for five years, 10 years down the road,” he remarked. “Every inch away from a major artery like the turnpike is a tremendous expense.”

The regional chamber’s Boyarko said she has had multiple conversations with TJX officials since Friday.

“We do still have a seat at the table and [TJX is] reevaluating all property options,” Boyarko said. Company officials are “definitely open” to other sites.

The chamber submitted 23 sites in Mahoning and Trumbull counties for consideration by TJX, any of which “might be under consideration,” she said. Any of the properties might previously have been eliminated for consideration based on a whole variety of reasons, including environmental issues, easements or site configuration.

“It’s simply a process of elimination,” she said. “We will remain engaged with them by phone or electronically, and we’ll see what the next step might be.”

Ryan said he has talked with company officials several times over the past few days.

Ryan’s office – primarily his staff – had been in contact with TJX for several weeks, he said. He took a more active role when the situation with the project was getting more “problematic,” he said.

“They are still exploring sites in the Valley,” he said. “They are doing it in good faith and are interested in trying to make it work here. There are several sites they are looking at, including Lordstown I know is still in the mix.”

The congressman declined to identify any sites TJX is considering, but confirmed during the call that the Lordstown site TJX originally identified as its preferred location is not among them.

“That obviously has met a good deal of resistance and that’s why the company withdrew their zoning application,” he said. “No one has told me otherwise since they withdrew their application.”

The situation is complicated, the congressman said. Although most village residents appear to support the project and the company’s preferred site, opposition is enough to delay the project with a referendum on any zoning change, which would not go to voters before November.

TJX had planned to have its new distribution center open by 2020.

Whether the opposition to the earlier proposed site will have a broader impact and give the Valley a black eye in the economic development community, as suggested last week by Anthony Cafaro Jr., co-resident of the Cafaro Co., remains to be seen, Ryan said.

“If we land this facility, then what happened in Lordstown won’t have much of an effect,” he said.

One site believed to be under active consideration is in East Lackawannock Township, Pa. Penn-Northwest Development Corp. has offered up to 200 acres of land for the project, Randy Seitz, executive director, said.

The site, off Interstate 80’s Exit 15, was among the locations TJX evaluated earlier in the process before settling on Lordstown, Seitz reported.

After a “hostile” meeting in Lordstown last month between TJX representatives and village residents, Penn-Northwest saw “an opportunity for us to take another stab at it and at last keep it in the Valley,” Seitz said. At the end of March, Penn-Northwest sent the company a proposal and encouraged representatives to visit the site.

Following TJX representatives’ April 6 site visit, company officials told Penn-Northwest the site was on the company’s radar and they would contact them if they were interested.

“We’re going to stay on top of them. We’re going to continue to investigate,” Seitz said. He spoke Sunday with the Governor’s Economic Action Team and Gov. Tom Wolf has been asked to call the company.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.