Developer plans 2.7-million-square-foot industrial building at Barrhaven business park

Project would be nearly three times larger than Amazon warehouse on Boundary Road

Barrhaven warehouse
Barrhaven warehouse

A developer is planning to construct the largest industrial building in Ottawa at a Barrhaven business park – a 2.7-million-square-foot facility that would be nearly three times larger than the massive Amazon distribution centre on Boundary Road.

A company called Python LP has filed a site plan application to construct the building – which would feature five levels and soar nearly 100 feet high – at 222 Citigate Dr. in the heart of Regional Group’s 170-acre Citigate Business Park, just east of the intersection of Strandherd Drive and Highway 416 in Barrhaven. 

The “prestige office and light industrial building,” which is expected to include about 50 truck loading docks and more than 2,000 parking spaces, would easily eclipse the one-million-square-foot Amazon warehouse to become the largest industrial building ever constructed in Ottawa. 

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Broccolini, the Montreal developer behind the $200-million Amazon project that opened in 2019, is not named in the new application. But three members of the Broccolini family who are also high-level executives at the company that bears their name – CEO John and vice-presidents Joseph and Paul – are directors of a company called Python GP that was federally incorporated at the beginning of March, just weeks before the new application was initially filed.

James Beach, Broccolini’s Ottawa-based director of real estate and development, said he couldn’t comment on whether the company was involved in the project. Officials from Regional Group also refused to comment on the proposal.

Shawn Hamilton, managing director of CBRE’s Ottawa office, noted Broccolini has a track record of building large-scale warehouse facilities that includes the Boundary Road distribution centre and a similar-sized project, also for Amazon, that is slated to open later this summer in Scarborough.

E-commerce potential

While no potential tenants are mentioned in the application, supporting documents say the peak period for the site is expected to run from October to January – coinciding with the busy Christmas shopping season. Experts also note that the site’s easy access to Highway 416 would make it a prime location for a retail distribution centre.

“It’s got e-commerce written all over it,” Hamilton said, adding he would be surprised if more than one tenant shared the massive building.

“The only other potential user would be another e-commerce group, and I don’t know how excited they would be to be right next to one another in the same building. My suspicion is that it would be a single user.”

According to the site plan summary, Python LP has entered into an agreement to buy the 64-acre site from Regional Group, although sources say the deal has not yet officially closed. If the project costs of Broccolini’s Boundary Road project are any guideline, the new facility – which is expected to employ more than 1,600 workers in two shifts during peak periods – could have a total price tag of more than half a billion dollars.

While other Ontario cities are already home to large-scale distribution centres – Walmart, for example, has a pair of 1.5-million-square-feet logistics facilities in Cornwall – Hamilton said few other construction projects in Ottawa history could even compare to the scope of the new proposal. The new building would have a larger footprint than the 2.23-million-square-foot former Nortel campus on Carling Avenue, which is now home to the Department of National Defence.

“It’s a completely different league,” Hamilton said.

According to planning documents, the applicants hope to start construction on the project this summer, with full occupancy slated for 2021. 

Barrhaven booming

Barrhaven Coun. Jan Harder said the proposal is not a done deal yet, noting it still requires council approval. But she said she is “eternally hopeful” the massive development will come to fruition.

“It’s incredibly exciting,” she said, adding she believes the project could kickstart more new development in the fast-growing suburb. In recent years, the area around Citigate and Strandherd has attracted interest from hotel developers as well as heavy construction firm Tomlinson Group, which constructed its new corporate headquarters in the area. The Myers Automotive Group also floated plans in late 2019 for a new office and dealership just south of the growing Citigate Business Park.

The Barrhaven proposal is not the only plan that aims to add new inventory to an industrial sector that has seen few new builds for the past two decades. Ottawa’s industrial availability rate was less than three per cent at the end of 2019, a near-record low.

Broccolini wants to build a 700,000-square-foot warehouse in North Gower, a project that’s now under review from the province’s Local Appeal Planning Tribunal after it was approved by council last December. And local developer Avenue31 recently filed plans to construct six office and industrial buildings totalling one million square feet on 100 acres of NCC-owned land near the corner of Hunt Club Road and Hwy. 417.

Hamilton said being located just a few hours’ drive from both the Greater Toronto Area and Montreal is a major selling point for the National Capital Region. He said the Ottawa area is drawing the attention of more and more e-commerce companies looking to satisfy growing consumer demand for same-day deliveries to Canada’s two largest urban centres.

“Once you get a few (distribution facilities), you create a critical mass, and then people start to recognize the value of Ottawa’s location,” he said. “You will see more of these coming to Ottawa. I am convinced of that.”

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