Opponents of Amazon project in Grand Island continue push

Informational meeting scheduled tonight as town mulls whether to allow Amazon to build massive building in Grand Island

Mike Baggerman
July 31, 2020 - 3:00 am

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GRAND ISLAND, N.Y. (WBEN) – Opponents of the proposed Amazon building in Grand Island will host an informational meeting on Friday which will highlight the specific reasons why they are against the 3.8 million square foot building that will be used as a national distribution center for the retail giant.

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The meeting, run by the Coalition for Responsible Economic Development for Grand Island, or CRED4GI, has invited other members of the coalition to the meeting but not the public at large because of social distancing concerns.

CRED4GI will likely live stream the event.

“We just think this is not the kind of development that should be placed in an ecologically sensitive island,” Cathy Rayhill, spokeswoman for CRED4GI, said. “We think that building one of the world’s largest warehouses here is misplaced. We live on an island, which is serviced by two sets of aging bridges, and the traffic and pollution and environmental impact to this area are very outsized for this community. It doesn’t fit the characteristics and comprehensive plan that was set forth and recently adopted by our town board.”

Amazon and county officials have been in talks for about two years to bring the center to Grand Island. It was under the name “Project Olive” used by the developer, Trammell Crow Company. Rayhill said residents didn’t learn it Amazon was the planned tenant until February.  

The project in Grand Island is vastly different than Amazon’s presence in Tonawanda and Lancaster in both size and purpose. Amazon’s presence in Lancaster is final-mile fulfillment building. Tonawanda’s building is a delivery station. The national distribution center is more than 30 times the size of the center in Tonawanda and would move product from their warehouse to smaller distribution centers, which then reaches individual homes.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz is pushing for town officials to pass the project. He described the project as one of the largest construction projects the region ever and compared it to the construction of the University at Buffalo’s north campus in Amherst.

“(Amazon) looked at multiple locations, including locations we thought would be a good location for this site,” Poloncarz said last Friday. “They are specifically looking for a location, and have been for some time, that has an ease on with truck deliveries and traffic. This is a logistics center, something that is in a major logistics and transportation corridor.”

READ MORE: Poloncarz implores Grand Island to welcome Amazon (July 24)

Poloncarz said there was consideration for using the Bethlehem Steel site in Lackawanna, which the county preferred, though Grand Island was the preferred option for developers. The county executive also said Amazon also considered sites in Onondaga County.

“We’re talking about at least $30 million just in taxes with regards to the site for the city, county, and school district,” Poloncarz said. “That does not include additional fees and other types of services which Amazon…submitted to the Town of Grand Island. We believe this is one of the strongest deals that any locality would receive with regards to the revenue that is generated for the siting of the Amazon project in Erie County.”

Poloncarz also said there would be anywhere from 1,000 to 1,500 jobs that would pay at least $15 per hour. He called it a project of “regional significance”.

“They did not get special privileges,” Poloncarz said regarding tax breaks for Amazon. “When and if it actually comes up to the ECIDA for a vote, you will see the program that has been agreed upon is no different than if it had been Perry’s Ice Cream or any major manufacturer like Rich Products. They are not getting special treatment.”

But Rayhill and the coalition believe they did not have adequate time to review the project. She also believes that officials kept the project under the name “Project Olive” on purpose because of scrutiny in other communities. Poloncarz said a non-disclosure agreement prevented officials from saying it’s an Amazon project. Recent negotiations allowed Amazon’s name to be said publicly. 

The community is also worried because they have not received a cost-benefit analysis.

“The costs have really not been outlined at all,” she said. “We’ll talk about the environmental impacts. We’ll talk about jobs and whether those are really good for the community or not good for the community. We firmly believe that the majority of people who would fill such jobs on Grand Island do not come from Grand Island so they would have to come from off Grand Island.”

CRED4GI invited town officials to Friday’s meeting, though it’s not clear if they will attend. Messages to Grand Island Town Supervisor John Whitney were not returned.

The Grand Island Town Board will meet on Monday at 8 p.m. You can view the agenda for the town by clicking here

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