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Ald. Anthony Beale Plans Rush Job For Amazon Distribution Center In Pullman, But Mayor Lori Lightfoot Says He 'Got A Little Ahead Of Himself'

by Todd Feurer, CBS Chicago web producer

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Amazon is eyeing vacant land in Pullman for a new 40-acre distribution facility, and although the tech giant has said it has not made any final decisions yet, the local alderman is moving to expedite the approval process for the project in hopes of having the center up and running by the end of October.

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) on Monday announced an "agreement in principle" with Amazon for construction of the new distribution center at a former Ryerson Steel site at 104th and Woodlawn.

"It underscores the fact that Pullman is rapidly becoming the new green industry/transit, logistics and distribution center of Chicago. With no taxpayer dollars or incentives needed we expect to break ground this spring and celebrate its opening this Fall," Beale said in a statement.

However, Amazon stressed the project in Pullman is not a done deal yet, saying it is looking at other possible locations.

"We are constantly exploring new locations and weighing a variety of factors when deciding where to develop sites to best serve customers, however, we don't provide information on our future roadmap," an Amazon spokesperson said in an email.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot also noted Amazon has not been in contact with her administration about the project.

"I don't think there's anything to talk about yet. We haven't heard anything from Amazon. So I think Alderman Beale got a little ahead of himself," Lightfoot told reporters at an unrelated event, when asked about Beale's announcement.

In a phone interview, Beale acknowledged "conversations are still ongoing" with Amazon, but he said he's very confident the company would be breaking ground on the project in Pullman this year. So much so, he plans to expedite the City Council approval process, by asking various committees to approve the necessary zoning changes, building permits, and a tax break for the project's developer before next month's City Council meeting.

The alderman said Amazon would invest $60 million in the project, which would create 500 temporary construction jobs and up to 300 permanent jobs once the facility is built.

Beale said a rush job to get City Council approval of the project is necessary to make sure the facility can be finished by Oct. 31.

The alderman said he's not worried that his fellow aldermen or the mayor could put the brakes on expedited approval of the project.

"Who's going to say no to jobs? Who's going to say no to the 800-pound gorilla in the room?" he said.

While Beale endorsed Lightfoot for mayor last year, he has since become one of her most vocal critics since she chose Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) over him for chairman of the City Council Finance Committee.

Beale said he would be seeking a tax abatement for the developers, Ryan Companies, rather than for Amazon itself. The Class 6B property tax break he is seeking is designed to "encourage industrial development throughout Cook County by offering a real estate tax incentive for the development of new industrial facilities, the rehabilitation of existing industrial structures, and the industrial reutilization of abandoned buildings," according to the Cook County Assessor's office.

Class 6B designations allow a property to be assessed at 10% of market value for the first 10 years, 15% in the 11th year, and 20% in the 12th year. Normally industrial real estate is assessed at 25% of market value, according to the assessor's office.

Beale said such tax breaks are typical of industrial projects in under-developed neighborhoods.

However, the Chicago Federation of Labor could seek to convince aldermen to oppose any tax breaks for the project, given Amazon's history of anti-union tactics. CFL President Rob Reiter noted Pullman is at the heart of the union labor movement in Chicago.

"The Chicago Federation of Labor calls on Amazon to build union, operate union, and participate in a robust community engagement process around any proposed facility. The CFL also opposes any effort to hand out tax breaks to anti-union companies, especially ones that rake in more than $11 billion in profit without paying any federal income tax," Reiter said in a statement.

In order to meet the time frame Beale is seeking for the project, he said he will have to introduce the various ordinances paving the way for the facility directly to various City Council committees, rather than the standard procedure of introducing them at the next full City Council meeting.

Beale said, by introducing the ordinances for the Amazon project directly to committees in early February, the full City Council could vote on the project at its next meeting on Feb. 19. Otherwise, the final vote would have to wait another month.

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