Westfield lands $ 2.7 billion data center campus


WESTFIELD – The developers want to build a 10-building data center campus on what is now vacant land on the city’s north side totaling, after 12 to 18 years of phased construction, an investment of $ 2.7 billion with 2.74 million square feet of space on 155 acres.

Construction, if the project is approved by city and state, would begin in 2023 with the first building and all necessary electrical connections. This building would be completed in mid-2024. Plans call for the last of the buildings to be completed in 2038.

Customers for the project could include the industry’s ‘Big 5’ – Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Apple and Facebook – as well as lesser-known small data companies, said Erik J. Bartone, company director of development. , called Servistar. Realties LLC.

Electronic “mining” of bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies is not in the plans at this time, he said.

“There is huge industry growth going on right now in telecommunications, data, data processing,” Bartone said. “Much of it has been recently driven, obviously by COVID-19. It’s a major transformation in the way trade is done in the United States and around the world.

His business was drawn to the site just west of routes 10 and 202 because it sits on a major high-capacity Eversource power line and because of Westfield Gas & Electric, as the local electricity supplier, the complex would buy electricity from the wholesale market. The site also has gas for heating, hot water and for the production of emergency power.

Westfield is also close to airports, including Bradley International Airport at Windsor Locks, Connecticut, and business aircraft facilities at Westfield-Barnes Regional Airport. The site is just 99 miles from Boston and in the middle of a huge Northeastern market for data services with a population of 23 million people.

“Boston is an attractive address for a corporate head office,” said Bartone, whose background is in electricity brokerage.

Bartone and his team are also impressed with Westfield’s education system, with Westfield High School, Westfield Technical Academy and Westfield State University as a source of employees.

There will be 400 permanent jobs at full capacity, he said. It’s 40 per building because the buildings are completed every few years. Salaries will average $ 100,000.

There will be 1,800 construction jobs for each of the data center buildings, which represents approximately 18,000 total construction jobs over the 12 to 18 years of construction.

The project would also recreate 1,200 indirect jobs in the community, Bartone said.

He couldn’t say on Wednesday how much of the $ 2.7 billion would be spent in the early stages. But he said the first building is relatively more expensive because it requires the electrical installations that are not there yet. The site already has the Eversource line.

“This business is going to create other businesses and people will want to be close to this data center,” said Mayor Donald Humason. “We have to think about the scope. This is not a small farm of servers. It’s huge,”

Huymason said the city has been negotiating with Bartone’s team since the spring. Bartone said he has been evaluating the Westfield site for a year or more.

He compared it to the $ 165 million Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center on Bigelow Street between Appleton and Cabot Streets in Holyoke. This center, which opened in 2012 as part of a partnership between Harvard, the University of Massachusetts and other research universities.

“This project on Servicestar could be 10 of those,” he said. “But instead of serving universities, it could serve the entire Northeast. And it would be here in Westfield.

And that will be without the traffic and environmental issues that have hampered property development efforts in the past. Failed projects include a gas-fired power plant, freezer warehouse, and Federal Express depot.

Everything is done because the neighbors opposed the movement of trucks.

“This is what we were looking for,” said Humason.

But it is not yet a done deal.

Peter Miller, the city’s economic development manager, said the project developers’ biggest challenge was environmental: designing buildings with environmental, habitat and wetland concerns in mind.

But Humason said the developer’s advantage is that they are building 10 three-story buildings.

“It’s not a huge warehouse,” said the mayor. “There is flexibility. “

There’s also the developer’s proposed tax deal with the city. Called 121 A, this would be a 40-year allowance that would exempt Servistar Realties from personal property tax on computer hardware.

But even under the deal, Seristar Realties would pay around $ 1.3 million a year in taxes for the first few years, Miller said. That would make it the biggest taxpayer in town.

Over time, taxes would average over $ 8.5 million per year in payments over the 40-year term, and over $ 11 million per year after full construction of the project, according to Servistar’s request. .

That means that when fully constructed, this project would not only be the largest taxpayer, but also the size of the three largest existing taxpayers combined, said Richard Sullivan, president and CEO of the Economic Development Council of Western Massachusetts and former Mayor of Westfield.

“It will be a significant number of well-paying jobs. There are high-end jobs, ”Sullivan said. “I think this is a development and an opportunity for a new area in western Massachusetts.”

Ward 1 Councilor Nicholas J. Morganelli represents the ward. He said he heard a lot of positive comments. But some in the region are worried about the loss of green space.

“There aren’t many green spaces left. I hate to see cultivated fields develop. I wish there was another large space already paved where we could put this, ”he said. “But I guess the point is, there isn’t.”

Overdevelopment is a concern raised earlier this summer by the now abandoned Carvana project in Southwick.

Bartone said energy costs are usually the most important consideration in choosing a site for a facility like this. And historically, New England has been considered expensive. But there is a movement to geographically bring data centers closer to their customers, hence the need to be in the Northeast.

And the overall purchase of electricity will help.

“It’s our expertise,” he said.

Three are environmental components of the project. They plan to build with solar panels that would generate electricity. They also assess the use of geothermal equipment to cool IT equipment. The buildings will probably be equipped with charging stations for electric vehicles.

Bartone’s team plans to present their plan at a town planning council briefing on September 7. The tax deal calls for a city council hearing on September 16.

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