Massive industrial park near Rivian EV plant proposed east of Atlanta

Credit: City of Covington

Credit: City of Covington

Covington Industrial Park, which is in its earliest development stages, could be valued at $150 million by 2030

A company is pitching a sprawling warehouse and industrial complex in Covington, east of Atlanta, that would nearly double the industrial space in Newton County’s seat, and add to the region’s explosive surge of distribution and light manufacturing space.

The proposed 4-million-square-foot industrial park, bigger than two Lenox Square malls, spans nearly 500 acres, according to state paperwork filed last week. Dubbed the Covington Industrial Park, the project includes e-commerce, manufacturing and general warehouse space — sectors that have been booming for years, but particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

The industrial park, whose developer hasn’t been publicly announced, would also be the latest gigantic investment by the industrial sector along the I-20 corridor east of Atlanta, and it would join the nearby $5-billion Rivian project in transforming the area. Marc Beechuk, the planning director for Covington, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution the city and surrounding area is just beginning to see the effects of the industrial investment.

“The development out here is just off the charts from what I’ve seen in the past,” he said.

Warehousing, spurred by the growth of e-commerce, has fueled a light industrial boom not only in metro Atlanta but across the state. Disruption caused by COVID-19 sent demand for rapid home and business delivery into overdrive.

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According to real estate services giant CBRE, five warehouse buildings totaling nearly 1.5 million square feet opened along I-20 east of Atlanta during 2021, and another 1.2 million square feet of projects are currently under construction there. All of those are speculative, meaning they do not have named tenants attached to the projects.

It’s unclear if the Covington proposal is speculative or if it includes one or more anchor tenants. Serra Hall, the executive director of the Newton County Industrial Development Authority, said she’s been in preliminary discussions with the property owner and site planner, but she’s not aware of any selected tenants.

She added that “at this time, there is no correlation or connection” between the industrial park proposal and Rivian, the electric vehicle startup that announced plans to build a massive vehicle and battery plant within 15 miles of Covington.

‘They’re being scooped up’

About half the floor space of the proposed Covington project will be warehouses, and the other half will be split between e-commerce and manufacturing, according to a site plan.

Universal Planning and Development LLC, which represents the applicant Newton Land Investments LLC, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The applicant, which already owns some of the parcels proposed for the development, had to complete a Development of Regional Impact (DRI) application, which is required for gigantic projects that will affect more than just the city or county where the project is located. The Atlanta Regional Commission vets those applications, which includes an analysis on how local infrastructure will be affected.

The warehouse sector as a whole has also grown substantially. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found the number of warehouse workers has roughly tripled in metro Atlanta over the past decade.

The second quarter vacancy rate for warehouses in metro Atlanta was 3.8%, and for the submarket along I-20 east of Atlanta, it was 3.7%, according to CBRE. Hall said the market has an insatiable demand for more warehouse space.

“Any developer would say to you that we can’t have enough warehouses at the moment,” she said. “They’re being scooped up every time one is being built.”

Finding the right balance

The project site is along Industrial Park Boulevard near Covington’s northern border. The applicant’s next step is attempting to annex some neighboring undeveloped properties into Covington.

Beechuk said the largest warehouse operating in the city is about a fifth of the size of the proposed industrial park. The city hasn’t received any rendering of what the buildings might look like, but he joked that it’ll probably be “a rectangle with very few windows.”

Atlanta does a fairly good job of providing warehouse space north and south of town,” Beechuk said. “... but I was told that the development east and west of town along the I-20 corridor is underserved at this point.”

Some communities feel overserved by industrial warehouses. Henry County, south of Atlanta, has considered implementing a moratorium on warehouses for the past few years because of complaints from residents who have to share their roads with tractor-trailers.

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While the pandemic helped fuel the rapid expansion of logistics and last-mile distribution centers, some companies have begun to pull back for fears of overextending themselves. Amazon recently backed out of a large project in Chamblee.

While the application did not include job creation estimates, a traffic study hints at how many jobs the industrial park could generate. The study estimated there would be about 3,500 employee car trips each day in addition to about 900 heavy vehicle trips per day.

The project, which is estimated to have a final value of $150 million, is expected to be completed by 2030. Hall said it will likely be completed in several phases, so plans could change.

“The intention is to take this slow and begin building buildings as needed to really be able to phase this out properly,” she said.

— AJC reporter Michael Kanell contributed to this report.