Sunday, January 27, 2008

ABF Eyeing Fort Wayne For Expansion

Beer distributor, truck firm eye Washington Center rezoning for growth

A local beer distributor is preparing for the day its bubbling operation will spill out of its east-central Fort Wayne complex.

AALCO Distributing Co. Inc. wants to buy a 26-acre Washington Center Road property and move there in three to five years, Chief Financial Officer Deb Niezer said. The Fort Wayne-based company plans to sell a section of the site, called Elliott Industrial Park, to trucking company ABF Freight System Inc., which would build a truck terminal at the site.

The site – on the south side of Washington Center Road, west of Goshen Road – appealed to both AALCO and ABF because of its proximity to Interstate 69. AALCO delivers beer and water to businesses in Allen, Adams, Wells and Huntington counties.

“It’s located on major highways that will allow us to go in all directions,” Niezer said.

ABF wants to be near its clients to minimize expenses, said Walter Echols, vice president of real estate for the Fort Smith, Ark.-based trucking company. This site offered that advantage. ABF currently operates a truck terminal on Wells Street. The company would move to Washington Center Road if a proposed rezoning is approved and the sale is finalized, he said.

Fort Wayne Plan Commission members have scheduled a hearing on the project Monday. The plan commission and the City Council will decide whether to rezone the residential property for general industrial use. The plan commission hearing will be at 7 p.m. Monday in Room 126 of the City-County Building.

AALCO plans to build an 80,000-square-foot headquarters at the site, Niezer said. It would include offices, warehouse space and an area where workers would load cases of Anheuser-Busch products, other beers and water onto trucks. The company has not calculated how much it will invest to build the headquarters, she said.

When AALCO last expanded in 2005, the company built on the remaining land at its Grant Avenue location, Niezer said. The Washington Center Road site would give AALCO, a third-generation family business, room for future expansion.

The company’s proposed headquarters would be about 20,000 square feet larger than its current 60,000-square-foot complex, Niezer said. The company’s operations are split among six buildings on Grant Avenue. In the new location, the warehouse and offices would be under one roof.

“It allows us to expand and provides efficiencies for our business,” she said.

AALCO employs about 65. The company eventually would add workers at the new site, but Niezer said the exact number is undetermined.

ABF wants to build a 48-door truck terminal, according to the application filed with the city. The 26,000-square-foot building would also include office space. Construction could start this year, according to the application. Echols said no construction timeline has been set because the project is in the preliminary stages.

The trucking company employs 25 in Fort Wayne, Echols said, and the West Washington Center Road site would offer space for future growth. The company has not determined how many employees it would add or the project cost, he said.

ABF’s Wells Street location is just south of the local Edy’s Grand Ice Cream plant addition. The company announced in June it would invest $29.5 million to build another NestlĂ© Drumstick production line there. Edy’s representatives did not return calls seeking comment last week.

If ABF moves to another location, its Wells Street property could be attractive to many users, including Edy’s, said Rob Young, president of the Fort Wayne-Allen County Economic Development Alliance. The site is close to Glenbrook Square and other Coliseum Boulevard amenities, downtown and highways.

“I think you’ve seen a lot of activity in the area,” he said.

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