JOHNSTOWN – With a biting cold wind, mascot Friendly the Tiger was probably the warmest attendee for an official ground breaking ceremony for a new distribution center in the region.
Politicians and company officials from Giant Tiger Stores Limited broke ground Monday afternoon at the site on Newport Drive in the Johnstown Industrial Park where the center – estimated to be 550,000-600,000 square feet – will be built. That’s about the size of 10 football fields.
The center, which will consolidate three locations in Ottawa, should be open by summer 2018.
Edwardsburgh-Cardinal Mayor Pat Sayeau said it was “an honour” to have the company select the township for their location.
Sayeau told the crowd 225 was a significant number – it was the original acreage proposed in the sale and it was the same number of days from Giant Tiger’s initial inquiry until today’s groundbreaking.
“An almost unheard of timeline for a development of this scope but, then again, when Giant Tiger showed up at the first meeting with…(all their senior staff)…we were convinced that they meant business and that our challenge would be assembling the team that could meet their needs,” Sayeau said.
There were also speeches from MPP Steve Clark, MP Gord Brown, Giant Tiger President Thomas Haig, MP Scott Reid (son of GT founder Gord Reid) and other officials.
Giant Tiger CFO Paul Wood told Brockville Newswatch the project is the “most significant investment in the company’s history” and a “sizable investment” but wouldn’t divulge specifics in order to protect their position in a competitive marketplace.
Wood said the land will allow them “a place grow” and expand in more phases as needed. This first phase will take up about 60 of the 222 acres Giant Tiger bought.
While the number hasn’t been finalized, Wood said there are indications that some staff from their Ottawa locations may not end up making the commute to Johnstown. “We would love for all of them to move with us, our employees are our key resource for us. We recognize that won’t be possible for all of them,” he said. There are reportedly around 250 positions at the Ottawa locations.
Wood also cited the “competitive nature of our industry” in not disclosing specific numbers.
“We are committed to our employees from top to bottom in the organization. We’ll do what’s fair and practical and everything possible to help those that are unable to come…find alternate employment within our company or assist with retraining or educational opportunities and so forth,” Wood said.
As for picking the location, Wood said they were looking for a place to expand due to their sizable growth and picked the area first based on a geographic center of their store network. He said the land was found accidentally through a Google search which pulled up the Edwardsburgh-Cardinal Township website while looking for information on another piece of land that turned out to be unsuitable.
Construction part of ‘long standing relationship’: Lundy
“This is one of those pinch yourself moments,” Sean Lundy, CEO of M.P. Lundy Construction, told Brockville Newswatch.
“The company has been around 50 years and it’s been very fortunate to call Giant Tiger a client since the late 90s so we’ve had a long standing relationship. We’ve been building with them over the years and it’s all sort of led us to this one place and it’s thrilling, it’s really thrilling,” Lundy said.
Lundy said getting the contract was a product of the relationship and the “trust and confidence between the two teams” because his firm doesn’t go around “just building big distribution centers.”
M.P. Lundy Construction has built stores for Giant Tiger, including work on their current warehouse and head office on Walkey Road and the first Giant Tiger store “GT1” on George Street – both in Ottawa.
As for construction, Lundy said people will be seeing “a lot of action” starting soon where 100,000-200,000 square feet of concrete foundation will be poured. The “lion’s share” of the building will happen in the next 9-10 months.
“We’ll be pouring concrete and erecting steel and this is all going to be happening over the summer,” Lundy said. “The building is going to be enclosed, into the fall, and then we’ll be concentrated on all of the systems inside of the building to have it ready for Giant Tiger to start putting in their racking and their equipment and the end of next January,” he said.
At the peak of construction there will be “well over 100 people” on site and Lundy said they are trying to utilize local tradespeople where they can.
“I’ve already been speaking with a number of business owners that have approached me and said, you know, we’re in the neighbourhood and we are connecting them with some contractors that are coming.”
Lundy explained that contractors have to have “capacity” to be to do the work in the tight time frame. “But they have the ability, with some suggestions from our side, to hire from within the area. So I’m really hopeful that is going to be positively felt by all of the people that are living here on so many levels,” he said.
Giant Tiger center will shift tax burden
When the distribution center is up and running, Edwardsburgh-Cardinal Treasurer Melanie Stubbs told BNW the assessment will shift the tax burden off residential homeowners “quite considerably.”
It’s not known what the value of the construction is as the private company wants to protect details of its strategic investment. Building permits that would have shown the value of construction have not been issued, though CAO Debra McKinstry indicated the value of building would not necessarily be the same as the value through provincial assessment.
McKinstry says the land purchase leaves about 12 acres left in the Johnstown Industrial Park for further development. She indicated the township has been receiving inquiries about the remaining land.