HillRag by Elizabeth O'Gorek
Development of Reservation 13 has been the subject of community discussion and planning for the past fifteen years, and two mixed-use buildings on the site are already in the works. District-based Developers Donatelli and Blue Sky are expected to build two mixed-use buildings on the F1 and G1 plots.
So neighbors were surprised when the site was included in the District response to the Amazon RFP for sites for a second headquarters, Amazon HQ2.
Many residents had attended a meeting of the Hill East Task Force just five days earlier, on Wednesday October 11th. At the meeting Sarosh Olpadwala, Director of Real Estate of the Office of the Deputy Mayor of Economic Development (DMPED), guaranteed progress on phase one.
“I want to say unequivocally, and without any uncertainty, we are closing on F1 and G1 by the end of the year,” Olpadwala said at the meeting, “and we will break ground in the first quarter of 2018.”
Asked what plans DMPED had for the next phase of the site, Olpadwala said his office had been focused on phase one and not on what would happen afterward. The DMPED representative made no mention of the Amazon proposal.
Now, with the inclusion of the site in the Amazon proposal, some community members say they feel they have been lied to.
Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC 6B) Commissioner Denise Krepp (6B10) said she has no reason to trust District agencies moving forward. “I have no confidence left in any of these agencies,” she said. “They have repeatedly lied and they were given multiple opportunities to tell the truth.”
Both Krepp and Commissioner Daniel Ridge (6B09) say they were contacted a half-hour before the Mayor made the formal announcement and were asked not to discuss the plans.
Ridge said, “I am always willing to consider proper non-disclosure arrangements but I hope that I will never again be contacted under embargo a half-an-hour before an announcement of such significance. It makes me a party to an opaque system in an unwelcome way.”
He added, “The Reservation 13 site is not a free space on the board. It has been the subject of an intensive planning and development process in which residents participate to the greatest extent the city allows.”
Asked why the Director of Real Estate had not mentioned the inclusion of Reservation 13 in the city’s Amazon proposal, Deputy Mayor of Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) Brian T. Kenner pointed out that the Amazon RFP is a competitive process and, as a result, DMPED could not go public with information about the sites until all details had been finalized.
But he added that the proposal did not affect the Phase One plan for the site, and reinforced Oldpadwala’s statements at the October 11th meeting.
“There is no impact on [the Donatelli-Blue Sky] plans. We will continue as we indicated in the meeting the other night,” Kenner said.
Councilmember Charles Allen (Ward 6-D) said in a post on Facebook that the selection of so many sites in proximity to Ward 6 “confirms what we already know – this is an incredible community to live, work, and play,” but he added that the selection of Reservation 13 as part of the Hill East site gave him pause.
“It’s unclear to me how a campus of nearly 8 million square feet of office could align with the community vision and planning that’s taken place for this site,” he said.
The inclusion of the Hill East site in the District response to the Amazon RFP has already ignited intense discussions among neighbors on social media. Many neighbors agree with Krepp, expressing frustration about the process.
“Frankly, I’m disappointed that the District gov’t is backing down on the Master Plan developed by this community,” one said.
Others were fully in support of the idea of an Amazon headquarters in the area.
“Why would we NOT want this to happen? This seems like an incredible opportunity for our area,” one wrote.
“In order to support small businesses, you need day time, weekday traffic,” argued another poster. “An influx of 100’s of employees will drive development of restaurants, retail, and services on our end of Pennsylvania.”
Others seem to take a more jaded view. “I’ll take whatever helps to solve the blight that is currently on the Reservation 13 site,” one wrote on Facebook.
The Hill East site is one of four District proposals offered as a possible HQ2 site for the tech giant. Amazon has not committed to a date for selecting a smaller group of cities or jurisdictions, but Kenner expects it to happen sometime before the end of the year, as there is some indication that Amazon may conduct site visits sometime in that period.
Amazon has said that they would like to complete phase one of the headquarters, a 500,00 square foot building to be occupied in 2019. Kenner said if Amazon is serious about that goal, the company would probably have to make a decision about location sometime in the first half of 2018.