Amazon wants to dot cities and suburbs across the country with “last-mile” delivery hubs in a multibillion-dollar expansion aimed at finally making same-day delivery a reality.
But in Boston, apparently, city officials would rather take the inevitable traffic that will come from Amazon’s push to speed up deliveries without a nearby hub while skipping the jobs it would come with.
That’s one way of reading the Boston Planning & Development Agency’s decision to come out against plans for an Amazon delivery hub in a rapidly gentrifying section of South Boston.
Core Investments, which has been spearheading plans to transform an industrial stretch of Southie along Dorchester Avenue into new apartments, shops and offices, has pitched the plan as a transitional step.
Under Core’s plan, Amazon would take over a now–empty, 96,000-square-foot warehouse, previously used by Blue Cross, under a 10-year lease.
BPDA Rejects Bridge to Future
Core clearly sees Amazon’s delivery center as a placeholder.
After all, Core has a big stake in the ultimate transformation of the area as co-developer of the 746-unit Washington Village project, which sits just across the street from the warehouse.
But the BPDA has said no dice, recommending the Zoning Board reject the Amazon deliver hub proposal.
The rationale? Leasing an empty warehouse to Amazon doesn’t fit with the purpose of the agency’s grand “Plan Dot Ave” for redeveloping the scrappy industrial strip into millions of square feet of new condos, apartments, offices and restaurants, plus a big public park as well.
Look, Plan Dot Ave won’t be built out quickly, probably not even in a decade.
Given contamination on the site and the contamination of the American economy with COVID-19, the developers are going to need a bridge to the future, and the Amazon delivery center may be just the ticket, with plans to use the cash generated by the lease to help pay for the needed environmental cleanup.
And when it comes to grand plans that go nowhere, BPDA has a particular bad rep.
The files at the BPDA are filled with them dating back decades and gathering virtual and actual dust, from a “watersheet activation plan” for transforming murky Fort Point channel into a paradise for kayakers and floating cultural exhibitions – still waiting for that miracle to happen – to endless iterations on the future of Fan Pier, often bearing little resemblance to the rather humdrum design that finally prevailed.
Rough Justice on Dot Ave.
There’s also predictably – surprise, surprise – a gentrification angle here.
It may be no coincidence the BPDA was discussing ways to make this stretch of Dorchester Avenue more conducive to pedestrians and cyclists just before the pandemic shut down discussions.
While some level of luxury development here is probably inevitable, nixing plans for an Amazon delivery center is akin to throwing gas on the flames.
That’s basically rolling out the welcome mat to all the folks who can afford the sky-high rents and condo prices to live in his new, emerging neighborhood, while shutting the door on some badly needed blue collar jobs.
No, these aren’t good union jobs – not by a longshot. Working at an Amazon warehouse – or busting your butt as a contract delivery driver – are hard gigs. Brutal gigs, really.
The old factory jobs of the glory days of the 1960s and ’70s are long gone.
But these Amazon are the jobs that are here right now, jobs that pay something like a living wage, jobs that people, in a hard and unforgiving economy rely upon to pay the bills and keep their heads above water.
And there is a little rough justice in forcing affluent the renters and young professionals that will be filling all those new Plan Dot Ave apartments to put up with a little extra traffic and noise from all those Amazon vans serving their every whim and driven by the real folks that make the modern service economy tick.
With its decision, the BPDA is effectively forcing Amazon to find another location out of sight of the neighborhood’s potential new luxury towers. In fact, the agency is so committed to maintaining the purity of its beloved plan, that it is prepared to turn down hundreds of new jobs amid the worst downturn since the Great Depression.
Sorry, but that sounds like really bad planning to me.
Scott Van Voorhis is Banker & Tradesman’s columnist; opinions expressed are his own. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.