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Advocates cast suspicious eye on Amazon delivery facility plans

The 120,000-square-foot warehouse on Viele Avenue that Amazon plans to make into a distribution hub.

E-commerce giant plans a “last-mile” facility on Viele Avenue

After multiple press outlets reported in January that Amazon plans to open a new delivery facility in Hunts Point before the end of the year, community representatives took notice. They were alarmed that the e-commerce colossus had not informed them or elected officials about the project in advance.

“We didn’t know anything about it,” said Robert Crespo, Community Board 2’s chairman, who took part in a late January conference call between community members, elected officials, and three Amazon executives. The local representatives were anxious to learn how the deal might affect residents.

That was two weeks before the online giant’s abrupt, mid-February pullout from a Long Island City mega-deal. As of late February, the company has not stated whether its abandoning of the project in Queens will affect its plans for a “last-mile” distribution facility in a 120,000-square-foot warehouse at 1300 Viele Avenue on the Hunts Point peninsula, although it has said that it will continue expanding in New York despite the Queens bombshell. That deal, which called for the company to receive $3 billion in government subsidies, was nixed after labor leaders and elected officials blasted Amazon over its anti-union position.

Amazon did not respond to requests for comment from the Express.

Crespo and others present for the conference call were underwhelmed by what they heard from the Amazon representatives. 

“These jobs are not even worth anything for the community,” said Crespo later, in a conversation with the Express. 

The new facility, which would be one of about 75 nationwide and the first in the borough, would serve as an intermediary point where packages would be trucked in, then delivered to locations in the Bronx and points north, up to 25 miles away by part-time drivers earning between $18 and $25 per hour, for between four and six hours per week. The drivers would answer to a subcontractors receiving small business training available on Amazon’s website, and logistical support.

Despite its ample size, the new facility would employ no more than 10 full-time staffers or as few as five. Thus far, there is no stipulation for local hiring.

State Sen. Luis Sepulveda, who was on the January conference call, suggested that an Environmental Impact Study be conducted before the project can move forward, in light of the area’s notorious asthma rates. 

“It will obviously bring more traffic,” Sen. Sepulveda later said in a phone conversation with the Express, adding that any increase in the peninsula’s already heavy traffic would “make a bad situation worse.” However, if the move is done right, it could “create opportunities” for Hunts Point residents, he added. 

“While I welcome investment, it should not be at the expense of the kids we represent,” he said. Barretto Point Park is two short blocks south of the proposed facility. 

Although 1300 Viele Ave. is located a block away from the edge of Sepulveda’s district—-a point one of the Amazon representatives is said to have raised during the conference call, to challenge the senator’s authority in the negotiation—-vehicles would have to travel in and out of his district to get to and from the building. 

Another community leader who participated in the call agreed that more traffic near the park is a worrying prospect.

“I am concerned about the young people going to Barretto Point Park,” said Board 2’s Economic Development committee chair Maria Torres. “They’d be driving right by a park with little kids. We want to see their route.” 

Advocacy by organizations like The Point CDC, of which Torres is the longtime president, helped establish Barretto as a green oasis in a strip of riverfront now occupied almost entirely by heavy industry. “That corner (Viele and Faile Street) is not a great corner because it has (only) a stop sign and trucks,” she said. 

“This is something that I would watch closely because they’re not being forthcoming,” she added. “Amazon is not giving me any faith that they’re going to do the right thing. Why did we have find out about this (project) through the back channel?”

The Hunts Point contingent asked the Amazon officials to arrange tours to other delivery sites in the city to observe how those are working, such as one in Staten Island that employs more than 2,000, but the company has not responded. 

In a Jan. 31 Tweet responding to news reports of the Hunts Point plans, Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. wrote that “Labor peace must be a requirement at all Amazon facilities, not just HQ2 (Queens). That includes right here in The Bronx.”

Board 2 Chair Crespo insisted that elected officials ensure that the project include provisions that make it worth Hunts Point’s while, or Board 2 will fight it. 

“This is not going to happen without there being benefits to the community,” said Crespo. 

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