JOHNSTON – Amazon is coming to Johnston.
The Town Council voted Wednesday to support a 20-year tax deal for the world’s largest retailer to build a 3.8 million-square-foot robotics sortable fulfillment center off Hartford Avenue. The company will pay an average of $7.2 million a year in property tax.
The council also signed off on a “community partnership agreement” with Amazon that would require the company to fund road improvements, purchase bus passes for employees, pay for a career pathway program at Johnston High School, commit more than $5.3 million to public safety programs, and donate $50,000 to youth sports programs and $100,000 to the senior center.
“This will solidify the financial stability of this town for the next 20 years,” Mayor Joseph Polisena told several hundred people who crammed inside the auditorium at Johnston Senior High School for Wednesday’s public hearing. Governor Dan McKee, who supports the project, was present for the entire meeting.
Amazon has pledged to spend $290 million on the warehouse and hire at least 1,500 employees, according to Polisena. He said the project will be one of the largest developments in the history of the state, and Amazon’s annual payroll is expected to be close to $57 million.
The project has the strong support of the building trades, although Michael Sabitoni, the president of the Rhode Island Building and Construction Trades Council acknowledged that no project labor agreement is in place. He said Amazon has agreed to use the local trades unions for at least 90 percent of the project.
Several residents expressed concern about the potential traffic issues that an Amazon warehouse could create for the area near Route 295, but Polisena said the company has committed to spend $9 million improving Hartford Avenue. He said residents had the same fears about the new Citizens Bank headquarters, but the area has absorbed the traffic.
Others, like Enrique Sanchez, said Amazon’s track record for treating employees poorly, should give the council pause.
“Amazon doesn’t care about working class families in Rhode Island,” Sanchez said.