Protestors speaking outside of Ald. Emma Mitts office about the unopened Amazon facility in the neighborhood. Credit: Trey Arline

WEST HUMBOLDT PARK — Neighbors are calling on Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) to turn Amazon’s massive — but vacant and long-delayed — warehouse in West Humboldt Park into a spot for the community if it’s not going to open.

A group of organizers looking for answers were blocked from Mitts’ office Thursday. They instead spoke outside, saying they fear the sprawling, empty distribution center at 1260 N. Kostner Ave. is being wasted when it could instead be used to benefit neighbors, and they want transparency about why it hasn’t opened and provided jobs as Amazon promised.

Neighbors were refused entry to Mitts’ office, 4924 W. Chicago Ave., and told to submit their complaints in writing to a mailbox.

“Emma Mitts shoo’d her own constituents away from her office,” said organizer Kina Collins, who previously ran for Congress. “We need basic accountability. What they are doing is structural violence.”

In a statement, Mitts said she has never intentionally steered away constituents or ignored their questions, citing “health complications” as the reason she was unable to talk with protesters.

“‘Unity in the Community’ is our motto and foremost goal,” Mitts said in the statement. “I have been transparent with everyone regarding my strong support of at least 50 percent local hiring from the community [for the Amazon warehouse]. We look forward to collaboration and continued communication as we welcome the new jobs and resources to the 37th Ward community.”

Amazon was supposed to open the warehouse in late 2022, with officials saying it’d create about 500 jobs. But it has been indefinitely postponed and sat vacant while neighbors have repeatedly asked officials for answers.

Amazon spokesperson Steve Kelly told Block Club the company plans for the building to be operational by the fall.

“As we prepare for this facility to launch this fall, we will continue to work with Alderman Mitts and community organizations regarding employment opportunities and community initiatives,” Kelly said in a statement.

Neighbors have said they want the jobs — but they’ve expressed concerns about if the Amazon warehouse will open, as others around the country had sat empty for years.

Organizers at Thursday’s protest said the large building should be used for other purposes, such as a job training facility or as temporary housing for people with disabilities, if it is going to remain vacant.

“There’s no investment being made to the community if this facility remains closed,” said Farrah Walker, of the West Humboldt Park Community Coalition. “We want this to be a center that brings the community together. We want Amazon to create opportunities for us to invest in projects in the community.”

Farrah Walker speaking along with other organizers outside of Ald. Emma Mitts office. Credit: Trey Arline

Amazon announced its plans to open the distribution center in 2021, buying the facility from Allied Metal for $30 million. Mitts and company officials previously said it would be a 26-acre delivery hub that’d create hundreds of full- and part-time jobs, with Mitts saying it would boost the neighborhood, which was hit hard by the pandemic.

Last year, an Amazon spokesperson said the company will offer jobs with immediate health care, parental leave and tuition support to be a good partner with the community.

In January, after the planned opening had came and went, Mitts said the pandemic had led to issues and delays in opening the building. There had been restrictions on large-scale renovations and delays in securing building permits, she said at the time.

Organizers on Thursday said they want more transparency about what is happening with the facility.

Jadice Mirca, a West Humboldt Park resident, said she was shocked Mitts office blocked protesters Thursday, as the alderperson has spoken with residents openly about other issues in the past.

“I’m here because I want to do something, learn how to organize and get our voices heard,” Mirca said. “We’re already being shut out, and the inconsistency [from Mitts] is not great. As someone who lives in the neighborhood, I want to do what I can.”

Community organizer Chris White said it has become routine for large corporations like Amazon to come into communities and take large subsidies and tax breaks with little transparency, enriching themselves at the expense of residents.

“We just think there needs to be a complete overhaul of how development is done,” White said. “There needs to be a basic level of community benefits with anything that goes through [the Department of Planning and Development], and this administration needs to recognize that for the city.”

The Mayor’s Office did not respond to questions about the warehouse Thursday, though Mayor Brandon Johnson, while on the campaign trail this spring, previously said he think the facility could be crucial to reducing crime and creating jobs — if it’d open.

“Anything short of giving an opportunity to working people is unacceptable,” Johnson said at a protest in January. “This is a multibillion-dollar corporation that is refusing to share in its wealth, wealth that the city of Chicago is bringing” to them.

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