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1,500 Amazon jobs? No thanks, says Bolingbrook mayor.

Crain's Chicago Business

Thursday, February 13, 2020  |  Article  |  Alby Gallun

Business (10)

Amazon wants to build an 825,000-square-foot fulfillment center in Bolingbrook that would employ 1,500 people. “I told them I wouldn’t support it when they met with us,” said Mayor Roger Claar. “Then they closed two weeks later.”

Amazon wants to build a massive distribution center in Bolingbrook that would employ as many as 1,500 people, but the company is getting a downright frosty reception from someone it needs on its side: Roger Claar, the village’s longtime mayor.

 

Claar adamantly opposes Amazon’s plans for 119 acres of land it recently acquired in the southwest suburb, saying the 825,000-square-foot fulfillment center the e-commerce giant wants to build there would be too tall and unsightly. He worries that truck traffic from the property would choke a nearby intersection on Interstate 55. And all those jobs? At about $15 per hour, they wouldn’t pay enough.

 

Claar said he made his feelings abundantly clear to Amazon representatives when they presented their plans to him in January.

 

“I told them I wouldn’t support it when they met with us,” Claar said. “Then they closed two weeks later.”

 

Claar’s opposition represents a big hurdle for Amazon’s plans, the kind of tax-base-growing, job-creating project that most elected officials would beg for. The Seattle-based online retailer needs a zoning change from the village before it can move forward with its plans, and Claar, who has been Bolingbrook’s mayor for 33 years, has the power and influence to keep it from getting one. He said he shared his position with the village board at a meeting last night.

 

“I got absolutely no pushback,” Claar said.

 

The meeting convened just hours after news broke that Amazon had paid $50.5 million for the site on Illinois Route 53, where Atlanta-based Cox Automotive had run an auto auction before shutting the operation down last year. Amazon declined to discuss its plans yesterday, saying only that the land acquisition “provides us with the flexibility to quickly respond to our future network needs. Stay tuned for more information.”

 

An Amazon spokesman didn’t respond to a request to comment on Claar’s remarks today.

 

But Claar offered plenty of specifics from his meeting with Amazon representatives. He said they told him the warehouse would employ about 1,500 people earning about $15 per hour.

 

“That’s not even a living wage,” he said. “Will County is full of distribution centers. There are tons of jobs like this.”

 

Amazon, which has been expanding its network of fulfillment centers in recent years, already employs 7,000 people in Will County, according to the Will County Center for Economic Development. The company already runs a fulfillment center in nearby Romeoville and plans another one that will employ about 500 people in Channahon, about 11 miles southwest of Joliet. The numbers are big, but Amazon detractors have criticized the firm for low pay and tough working conditions at its warehouses.

 

“I would like to see a diversity of businesses with a variety of jobs,” Claar said. “You make $30,000—that’s not a lot of discretionary money for shopping in Bolingbrook.”   

 

He would like to attract more companies like WeatherTech, Bolingbrook’s largest employer, with more than 1,500 workers, and Ulta, the cosmetics retailer and second-largest, with more than 1,200 employees. Claar also singled out Q&W Electric, which employs a lot of well-paid engineers.

 

Eighteen parties, including Amazon, expressed interest in the property just south of I-55, many of them industrial developers that build big warehouses.

 

“I was extremely displeased that (Amazon was) bidding on it,” he said. “Then they outbid everybody else.”

Claar also criticized the scale of Amazon's proposed warehouse, which would rise eight or nine stories—about 100 feet, above the village’s height restrictions—and have no windows.

 

“That’s something that belongs out in the country,” he said. “It’s not what I have in mind.”

 

The mayor said Amazon representatives also told him that 200 trucks would be coming in and out of the property on a daily basis, adding to the congestion at Route 53 and I-55. 

 

“The intersection of 53 and 55 is a nightmare right now,” he said.