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After Amazon leaves Grand Forks building, leaders puzzle out what's next

Cars packed the parking lot at Amazon's Grand Forks facility on Monday, snow melting while the internet retail giant's name silently hung on the city-owned space it's occupied for years.

Amazon's Grand Forks facility at 1550 S. 48th St. (Herald photo/Sam Easter)
Amazon's Grand Forks facility at 1550 S. 48th St. (Herald photo/Sam Easter)

Cars packed the parking lot at Amazon's Grand Forks facility on Monday, snow melting while the internet retail giant's name silently hung on the city-owned space it's occupied for years.

But after the snow melts, things will look different at 1550 S. 48th St. Officials with the Seattle-based company informed the city last week that it won't be renewing its $218,177 annual lease, which ends in September, and plans to vacate by June 30. The roughly 200 employees who work there, most of whom support sellers on Amazon's website, will work from home.

Some city leaders say they were caught off guard by the company's decision, which will leave the Grand Forks with more than 40,000 square feet of office space to rent out later this year.

"The logical place to look (for a new tenant) is current industrial park tenants who might need some space," said Meredith Richards, a community development official with the city who works with the property. She noted that Amazon had its portion of the building wired and fit as a customer service center, which could make it attractive office space.

"But we really haven't got a firm marketing plan figured out," she said, "because this did come as a total surprise to us last week that they were leaving."

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The departure signals the end of Amazon's physical presence in Grand Forks since it first came in the years after the Flood of 1997. But in recent years, it's rolled back its presence, leaving nearby city-owed 1400 S. 48th St., now used entirely by Cirrus Aircraft. Last week's announcement at 1550 S. 48th St., adjacent to city-leased space for LM Wind Power, means it will no longer have a physical location within Grand Forks.

Both Cirrus' and LM Wind Power's leases extend into 2021, Richards said.

Keith Lund, president and CEO of the Grand Forks Economic Development Corp., expressed relief that the change doesn't mean layoffs. And while he said Amazon's decision is less a reflection on Grand Forks' economy than it is on its own workforce strategy, he said it's likely that employee turnover could mean a slow decline in the retailer's local workforce.

"These large spaces sometimes can be available for a while, then the right opportunity presents itself," he said. "We don't have anything right now to tell you that this space will be leased in a week or a month or when Amazon leaves, but we'll begin working to identify those opportunities starting today."

City Council President Dana Sande struck a similarly optimistic tone. He wasn't surprised by the news, he said, because Amazon's business model has been moving in this direction for some time.

"The good news is the building's paid off. It's a first-class facility we can market to other businesses," he said. "I'm trying to make lemonade out of this situation. ... It could be a lot worse."

Related Topics: KEITH LUNDAMAZON
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