Amazon’s new facility in the heart of Southwest Philadelphia looks much cleaner than the cement rubble of the former General Electric generator plant that has spanned three blocks for 20 years not far from the John Bartrams High School.
But the 140,000-square-foot blue-and-white Amazon parcel fulfillment center, with its pristine black asphalt parking spaces for 300 cars and 600 vans and trailers, is too immaculate.
It has yet to open, nearly a year after major construction was completed. Weeds are crawling along the fences, and the 300 to 500 jobs, starting at $15 an hour, that were promised in a neighborhood that needs them have yet to materialize.
“Amazon made promises. They haven’t followed through,” said State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams (D., Philadelphia), who championed the project in early 2021.
The Amazon project moved a SEPTA plan for the 29-acre property, which stretches from 67th Street to 70th between shop-lined Elmwood Avenue and the busy Northeast Corridor train tracks. The change in developers upset supporters who had hoped the transit agency would buy the site for $5.7 million and build its wagon barn there, instead of having to seek more expensive land elsewhere.
“Many of us said we would support this project because it would create jobs in the community. But we’ve grown frustrated over the past few months,” Williams said. “They don’t communicate. It was really, really insulting. It was disrespectful.
There is “no exact timeline yet,” Amazon spokesman Steve Kelly said Monday. He added that “we are proud to be part of the Philadelphia community, appreciate the support and patience of local authorities…We look forward to our continued growth, including the launch of our new delivery station on Elmwood Avenue.” .”
SEPTA, meanwhile, is currently negotiating the purchase of a former steel fabrication plant at 5100 Grays Ave. near Bartram’s Garden in Southwest Philadelphia. It is valued at $21.8 million.
» READ MORE: Amazon has obtained the land sought by SEPTA. Will this delay a much-needed cart upgrade?
SEPTA officials had worked for years to raise money and win the right to take the GE site by eminent domain. But last year, Williams and other West Philadelphia lawmakers — arguing that a for-profit, tax-paying employer would help public servants attract more for-profit, domestic employers — derailed the proposed SEPTA and paved the way for Amazon to buy the site for $9.6 million. , according to city records.
The contractors set up the warehouse quickly, with most of the work completed and authorized last year. Tall black metal fences were added over the winter and a network of cameras and computers went online in May, according to city records.
Since then, the factory has stood empty. What changed?
Amazon was in rapid growth mode last year, fitting out dozens of million-plus-square-foot warehouses and numerous other neighborhood delivery centers like the one in Southwest Philadelphia, as Americans , held at home by a second year of pandemic restrictions, bought more and more online.
This year, consumers are back in stores, the economy has slowed, and even Amazon has cooled. After seven years of record profits, the company lost money in the first half. Sales increased again, but at the slowest pace since the early 2000s.
New chief executive Andy Jassy, who took over from founder Jeff Bezos, announced a slowdown in hiring and cost-cutting measures. The number of Amazon employees fell to 1.5 million on June 30 from 1.6 million on March 31. he just needs to hire a little slower.
After building giant warehouses in Wilmington; Swedesboro, Gloucester County; the Lehigh Valley and near other cities, as well as delivery centers like the one in Southwest Philly closer to customers, Amazon had so much unused space nationwide that it was looking to sublet 10 million square feet to tenants, The Wall Street Journal reported in May.
Is that why the section of Elmwood Avenue remained quiet? Amazon officials declined to comment on whether or how the national slowdown affects plans in Philadelphia.
Williams said he felt the same thrill: “When they wanted to come here, we heard from their lobbyists, and their corporate group was quick to meet with us. They talked about investing and how they would organize within our large Liberian community and other communities.
“All we’ve seen so far are pop-up ads saying come get a job. But once they started developing the property it all fell apart, where we got frustrated We were told that Amazon was like this nationwide, that they were detached. But they promised to be a good neighbor here. Now that they’ve apparently hit a bump in the road, they don’t communicate more.
He added that the lack of information, even for executives who have been criticized for supporting the company, “is the worst thing. It’s really, really, really insulting. I can tell you they hit a big rock here in Philadelphia.
Williams says he now wishes he had supported SEPTA’s plan.
Amazon isn’t the only delivery company cutting spending as consumers have resumed in-person shopping and the economy has slowed. Philadelphia-based Gopuff, who said last winter it employed 15,000 people nationwide — about 1% the size of Amazon’s workforce — cut 1,500 jobs earlier this year and said it would close 76 unprofitable or low-volume neighborhood distribution centers in a bid to return to profitability.
Gopuff co-founder Yadir Gola said last week he was glad the company made cuts in the spring “before other companies” and is now better able to selectively resume growth. .
Even without the Elmwood Avenue warehouse, Amazon remains one of the largest for-profit employers in the Philadelphia area, with more than 15,000 workers — more than Vanguard or Wawa employ in the region — at sites , including its largest warehouse on the site of the former General Motors. assembly complex outside of Wilmington.
Writer Thomas Fitzgerald contributed to this article.