WEST HUMBOLDT PARK — Amazon’s plan to open a sprawling warehouse in West Humboldt Park isn’t going over well with some neighbors, who say the retail giant — and the alderwoman whose ward will be home to the project — are ignoring their concerns about the development.
Under the plan, Amazon is taking over a 26-acre site at 1260 N. Kostner Ave., owned by metal manufacturer Allied Metal, and replacing it with a 140,000-square-foot “delivery hub” offering nearly 500 full-time and part-time jobs, company officials have said. Allied Metal will remain on the site for two years.
When news of the warehouse surfaced this summer, some West Humboldt Park residents raised concerns about the project: They accused Amazon and Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) of moving forward with a plan that hadn’t been properly vetted by the community, and they questioned whether the warehouse will actually benefit residents of the long-neglected West Side neighborhood and not just add to Amazon’s coffers.
Those concerns are growing as the project inches forward.
Mitts, a supporter of the project, held a community meeting last week to update residents and take questions on happenings in the 37th Ward, including construction of the warehouse.
At the meeting, several residents said they want to see greater transparency from Amazon and Mitts, as many in the community haven’t been given the opportunity to weigh in or provide feedback. One urged Amazon to sign a community benefits agreement before moving the project forward, and another asked if the development will create pollution.
No one from Amazon attended the meeting, and most of those comments weren’t addressed; instead, representatives from development and construction firms tapped to build the project gave an overview of the plan and only answered a few logistical questions before signing off.
William Smiljanić-Pérez, a member of the neighborhood group Nobel Neighbors, called the meeting “bogus.” Smiljanić-Pérez said he was frustrated development officials dodged questions about community benefits and pollution and instead focused on the design of the warehouse.
“We are dealing with the richest man and the richest corporation in the history of the world and they want to promote pretty grass and trees on the corner of Division and Kostner as community benefits?” Smiljanić-Pérez said in a written message.
“All we got at this meeting is dismissal and further confirmation that development will continue to be forced on us without consent.”
Another nearby resident who attended the meeting, Arielle Maldonado, said she was equally disappointed. Maldonado, a local teacher who runs the nonprofit The Healing Corner, said she’s worried the jobs won’t last.
“These aren’t long-term jobs we need for our community,” she said. “These are short-term, high-turnover jobs. With automation, most of these jobs down the line will be replaced with robots. This is not a good long-term plan for the community.
“More importantly, it’s going to increase property taxes and a lot of longtime seniors in the area. They may get pushed out.”
Crews will begin demolition on the old Allied Metals site in the next few weeks to make way for the Amazon warehouse, development officials said at the meeting. The facility will have the same look and feel as an Amazon warehouse in suburban Cicero, with landscaping and a stormwater management system.
“That one was a big success, and I think this can be, too,” said Jason Spataro of PREMIER Design + Build Group, one of the groups building the project.
Jeff Cali of Venture One Development, another group tapped to build the project, said Amazon has hired local contractors of color to build the privately funded warehouse thanks to partnerships with Mitts’ office and a local pastor.
Unprompted, Cali addressed broader concerns many have about Amazon. The company and its founder, billionaire Jeff Bezos, have faced widespread criticism for their treatment of workers and workplace conditions.
“We’ve done quite a few Amazon projects, and what I can say is they care a lot about their workers and their experience in the facility. They’re constantly evolving the design to cater toward great working conditions in the building itself,” Cali said. “I don’t even work for Amazon, but I get frustrated when I hear … negative press because I see firsthand what they’re doing in these facilities to make it a great place to work.”
But West Humboldt Park resident Lisa Bryant said part of why she opposes the Amazon warehouse is because the company has a reputation for treating its workers poorly. Bryant said her friends drove trucks for Amazon, and they kept bottles in their trucks to urinate because they weren’t given any time for proper bathroom breaks.
“That’s messed up,” Bryant said.
As a longtime resident of West Humboldt Park, Bryant said she’d rather see a community center for children, a place where kids could play sports and “be out of trouble,” on the site instead of an Amazon warehouse.
Maldonado said she’d rather see a hub for local entrepreneurs.
They both said Amazon, one of the richest companies in the world, should give back to the community if it wants to set up shop there.
“My biggest concern is with Amazon coming like that, what do they have to offer us going forward in the future? Can they offer us jobs, [help with] college tuition, something to better our life?” Bryant said.
The Amazon warehouse is one of three large developments planned for West Humboldt Park: Development firm IBT Group is building a $50 million creative office campus at 1334 N. Kostner Ave., and the city is looking for developers to redevelop the former Pioneer Trust & Savings Bank site at 4000 W. North Ave. and 1616-38 N. Pulaski Road. Plans call for a cultural and community hub and a 100 percent affordable housing complex for local families.
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