Lowe's Plans Distribution Center in Pennsylvania

Apr. 5--JENKINS TWP. -- Lowe's Home Centers Inc. has purchased 131 acres in the CenterPoint Commerce and Trade Park for $28.7 million and site work is already under way on what is expected to be a 1.5 million-square-foot distribution center.

Officials at Lowe's and park developer Mericle Commercial Real Estate Services would not talk about plans for the site. But Kevin McHugh, business manager of Iron Workers Local Union Local 489, said he has seen plans for the building, and said a union contractor submitted a bid to construct the steel frame.

The work, McHugh said, went to a non-union firm and along with it several months of employment for up to 60 iron workers.

The center would be 50 percent larger than the Sears Logistics Center in the Hanover Industrial Park and four times larger than the Lord & Taylor distribution center in Wilkes-Barre Township.

A similar facility is nearing completion in Lebanon, Ore., said John Hitt, city manager of the town of 15,000 that is 90 miles south of Portland.

The warehouse there is 1,358,103 square feet, set on 204 acres, according to the city's Web site. Lowe's has shown a possible expansion to a 2,155,764-square-foot building in the future.

Hitt said Lowe's has said it will hire 500 people for the center, with an annual payroll projected at $15 million to $17 million. Construction is expected to finish in June, about 1 Ă‚˝ years after it started.

CenterPoint is not in a Keystone Opportunity Zone, which would exempt everything in it from state and local property taxes. But Luzerne County, Pittston and Jenkins townships and the Pittston Area School District agreed last year to exempt new buildings in the park from property tax for 10 years. In addition, the county agreed to take on maintenance of 20 miles of roads in the park after Mericle builds them.

Earlier this year Pittston Township received a $5 million state grant to fund an extension of water and sewer service into CenterPoint. The Greater Pittston Chamber of Commerce received $12.3 million in state funding in 2006 that is being used for site preparation, road construction, curbing, sidewalks, storm sewers and demolition in the section of the park that includes the Lowe's site.

Robert Mericle, president of the development company, has said his company will invest well over $100 million to fully develop the 1,800-acre park that also has attracted operations of Men's Wearhouse and Federal Express.

Lowe's built a similar center in the late 1990s in the Highridge Business Park, owned by the Schuylkill County Economic Development Corp. The company has 11 regional centers and 17 other distribution sites scattered across the United States.

John Morris, vice president of development for Equilibrium Equities, said a commitment by Lowe's is a good omen for the region's economic future.

"I think it's a sign that the market is continuing to grow," he said.

Northeastern Pennsylvania has three key attributes companies look for, he said -- transportation, availability of work force and tax incentives.

The sales price works out to $219,705 per acre, a substantial figure for industrial land, Morris said.

"That's a higher price than they pay in the Lehigh Valley."

According to documents filed April 3 with the Luzerne County Recorder of Deeds, Pittston Township and Jenkins Township each received $143,500 in transfer taxes as a result of the deal.

Copyright (c) 2007, Wilkes-Barre, Pa., Times Leader Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.