Johnston’s Amazon won’t open in 2023. That’s confirmed.
Now the launch has been pushed to a mystery date in 2024.
Johnston Mayor Joseph M. Polisena Jr. expects the facility to be operational by next year’s “holiday season.” Amazon has spent $300 million on the project so far, but won’t commit to a firm opening date.
When it was pitched to taxpayers and residents in 2021, Amazon’s lawyers estimated the facility would open months ago, last spring (2023). Then, eventually, as spring faded into summer, the company pushed the opening date back to the second half of 2023.
As the end of 2023 nears, Amazon now admits, at best, the region will be waiting until an as-yet-undetermined date in 2024 for the more than 1,000 promised jobs and the half-million dollars they pledged to pay out to the community — expected to be divided among the town’s youth sports, senior center, land trust and Memorial Park (within a year of opening).
“Construction inside and outside of the facility is ongoing and on track for a 2024 launch,” according to a statement provided earlier this week by Caitlin McLaughlin, Amazon spokesperson. “We appreciate the partnership with the Town of Johnston and the State of Rhode Island and look forward to working with them to hire more than 1,000 employees.”
Although it sits empty and incomplete, Amazon insists they will open the facility: “The Johnston Fulfillment Center remains a significant part of our future plans in New England,” McLaughlin wrote in an emailed response to questions. She provided a little bit of background on the project.
“Despite various macroeconomic pressures delaying this project, such as industry-wide supply chain and inflationary challenges, we remain focused on its opening next year,” according to McLaughlin. “We’ve spent nearly $300 million on this project to date, which includes local investments in labor and supplies.”
The Johnston Sun Rise asked Polisena if he was frustrated by the repeated delays.
“I’m not frustrated, I’m thankful,” he wrote via email earlier this week. “I don’t know of any other municipality in Rhode Island that will receive a guaranteed cash infusion of over $162 million over 20 years from one project — a project that has zero taxpayer dollars funding it, unlike some of the other subsidized projects we see like the Pawtucket Soccer Stadium.”
“No updates since the news that came out in July,” Polisena said last week. “It should open sometime in 2024 before the holiday season.”
On July 6, the Johnston Sun Rise published a story headlined “Shipment delayed? It matters when Amazon opens.” Both Amazon and Polisena said they had no updates on the then-expected late 2023 opening. Two weeks later, Rhode Island Secretary of Commerce Elizabeth Tanner announced another pushback of the expected commencement of operations at the site and both Polisena and Amazon confirmed the delay to local television news stations.
“I was informed when Secretary Tanner made the announcement, the same day the media informed the public, back on July 19th,” Polisena wrote via email.
The mayor has no doubt the facility will open and fulfill its promises to the community and local job-seekers.
“At almost 4 million square feet, it’s one of the largest warehouses in North America,” Polisena explained. “When constructing something that gigantic, particularly after the supply chain issues and semiconductor shortage presented by the pandemic, it’s understandable they were delayed. They are still on target to produce over 1,000 jobs and when Amazon begins the hiring process they will let the Town know. Most importantly, whether open or not, the Town receives its first payment from Amazon in January 2024.”
The tax agreement approved by Town Council commences in 2024.
“Nothing is contingent upon opening,” Polisena wrote. “Everything is coming Jan 2024. The first year payment and all of the community partnership benefits for the town and state.”
The Community Partnership Agreement was approved by a unanimous vote of Town Council in April 2021 while Polisena served as vice president prior to his election as mayor.
The vast majority of Amazon’s payments to Johnston should commence Jan. 1, 2024, delays or not.
However, according to the agreement, a half-million dollars in eagerly awaited payments to four community pillars — $50,000 to Johnston youth sports; $100,000 to the Johnston Senior Center; $250,000 to the Johnston Municipal Land Trust, and $100,000 for Johnston Memorial Park — are all contingent upon facility opening and full operation a the site.
It’s unclear whether the $50,000 will be split among various youth sports organizations in Johnston or if it will help fund youth sports through the town’s Recreation Department.
“The youth sports was purposely left generic so the town has flexibility in its allocation,” Polisena said.
While that half-million dollars may be a very small portion of the total expected Amazon windfall, it represents a huge boon to these relatively leanly operating town agencies.
“After speaking with (Amazon) I am confident I am not going to have to chase them down for 0.3%, less than half of one percent, of the agreement,” Polisena said. “They just want to be operational in the community before doing so.”
In the New Year, the town expects to receive the majority of Amazon’s promised payments.
“The $23.9 million community benefit agreement and the first $5.7 million payment of the $145 million tax agreement commence Jan. 1, 2024, regardless if the facility is open or not,” Polisena said. “The agreements are not contingent upon opening.”
Polisena said that “$162.1 million of the town’s total $162.6 million commences when the calendar hit(s) Jan. 1 and will continue annually thereafter for either 10 or 20 years, depending on the benefit.”
“This includes the annual payments of the $145.6 million tax agreement, the $11.6 million for school pathway programs and the $5.3 million for public safety,” Polisena explained. “The other $500k of the $162.5 million has to be paid within, not after, one year of opening. So if they open May 2024 they have until May of 2025. If they open October 2024 they have until October 2025.”
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Tuesday, November 14, 2023 Report this