The old Michigan state fairgrounds may become the site of a new Amazon warehouse, after Detroit’s City Council voted on October 20th to allow the sale of the grounds to Amazon. The warehouse is currently set to be up and running by 2022. Amazon would be acquiring 142 acres of the property, while the remaining area will go to various other buyers.
However, a lawsuit was filed on that same day by the State Fairgrounds Development Coalition, citing that the public was not allowed to give sufficient input on the matter. This echoes the sentiments of of a protest held on Oct. 16 against the construction of the center.
There is a seismic split in the narrative surrounding the potential sale of the state fairgrounds to Amazon. On one hand, folks like Detroit Mayor Duggan say it will bring 1,200 jobs to the community, all starting at $15 an hour with benefits. He stresses that these will be good jobs for people in the community, and that it’s construction will be beneficial for Detroit.
On the other hand, citizens, community leaders, and representatives have echoed concern about various parts of the plan. A particular overarching sentiment is the fact that people in the community were not given a say in the matter, let alone being given information about the building. Moving a massive Amazon center to a community will inevitably impact that community in one way or another. If something is being proposed that could significantly change the conditions of people’s lives, those people deserve to have a say.
Another prominent point of interest is the environmental impact a warehouse would have on the surrounding area. The vehicles used for transport at this facility will be 18 wheeler semi-trucks, unlike the smaller Amazon delivery vehicles you might see dropping off packages in your neighborhood. This distinction is important because these huge trucks will likely drive emissions up in the area. Rep. Rashida Tlaib expressed concern over this, referencing the fact that the district already deals with poor air quality.
The question is also raised: are these really good, safe jobs that will benefit Detroit? In September, Rep. Rashida Tlaib and Sen. Debbie Dingell visited Amazon warehouse DTW1 after employees alerted them of unsafe working conditions. After an examination of the facility, the Congresswoman Tlaib and the Senator Dingell expressed that they saw many safety violations taking place.
The wages for this new center would start at $15/hr, wth benefits. This is more than Michigan’s minimum wage, at $9.45 per hour and quite a bit more than the federal minimum wage, at $7.25 per hour. But do these jobs actually increase the financial stability of the community? Amazon has had a streak of paying virtually nothing on the huge profits the company makes. There have also been disputes with states that begin to enforce a state sales tax on Amazon purchases.
Even though Mayor Duggan has said no tax incentives have or will been given for the center, it is quite a fair point to be skeptical about Amazon playing by the rules when their past shows a different story. Members of the State Fairgrounds Development Coalition have spoke on the fact that a lack of public subsidies means that getting public input is not required. Therefore, they question whether this lack of subsides was to allow the plan to go forward with little community input. The coalition itself was also allowed little decision in the matter.
The building of this center may bring jobs, but that development is not a development for Detroit — it’s a development for Amazon. Those on the State Fairgrounds Development Coalition have expressed they had hoped the development of the state fairgrounds would be something for residents to be a part of, like the fairgrounds had once been. Building this facility would be an opportunity of expansion for Amazon, and residents would be forced to go along with that.
The fact that it would be a distribution center means it will be solely focused on deliveries to and from the facility. This means it isn’t a place for residents to congregate, or a physical local business they could support. These would be built up and sustained by residents, and would improve economic independence and resilience. An Amazon warehouse is another place for the company to expand its reach to customers, not to expand the development of the community. As well, the historic parts of the fairgrounds will either be moved or demolished to build the new distribution center.
With the pending lawsuit in place, the fate of the plan is not finalized. Both the surrounding community and the fairgrounds coalition need to have a voice in this potential construction. These decisions should not be made simply because they create jobs. There is much more beyond job creation that needs to be examined and taken into consideration. Tearing down a historic site without input from the surrounding community, to construct another facility owned by the richest man in the world, seems to me like it benefits Jeff Bezos more than it benefits Detroit.