Online grocer and delivery service FreshDirect is relocating to the Bronx, but the move is not without its detractors.
A groundbreaking ceremony and program was held for the new 500,000 square foot production facility and office complex in Mott Haven on Monday, December 22, even as protesters outside of the gates on East 132nd Street could be heard chanting slogans in opposition to the project.
Most of the borough’s political establishment supports the relocation of the grocer to the vacant, waterfront parcel of land on Bronx Kill, across from Randalls Island, arguing that the company’s move from Long Island City will bring more jobs to a borough in desperate need of them, while allowing the 600 Bronxites already employed at FreshDirect to work nearer to their homes.
But grassroots community groups, most notably South Bronx Unite, continue their protests of $128 million in government tax credits for the company, as well as concerns about asthma in their community.
They claim the facility will add an additional 1,000 trucks a day to the area.
The mood inside the property at the groundbreaking was festive, with officials including Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., Senator Ruben Diaz Sr., Assemblyman Marcos Crespo, Assemblyman Carl Heastie, and Assemblyman Jeff Dinowitz joining with FreshDirect co-founder and CEO Jason Ackerman in a show of support for the investment in the community.
“I am grateful for the widespread support we have received for our relocation and am looking forward to continuing our record of creating local jobs and strengthening our local community,” said Ackerman, adding “this is an important milestone for our company, allowing us to process orders more efficiently, expand our fresh food options, and make online grocery shopping more convenient for our customers.”
In a meeting with the press after his remarks, Ackerman said there was no pending litigation about the site, and that all suits filed by groups in protest to the siting of the new facility had been defeated in court.
He also stressed that about 80% of the funding for the project was private money, and that the tax abatements granted to FreshDirect were as of right because they were developing vacant land. He said that the tax abatements the company receives will occur over 40 years.
Borough President Diaz also lauded the new development as one that is indicative of what he terms the ‘New Bronx.’
“This project represents new jobs, and new development, and is a key component of our ‘New Bronx’ agenda,” said the borough president. “FreshDirect has cleared every hurdle placed in its way, and today’s groundbreaking puts the company on the fast track to their future Bronx relocation.”
Diaz said that more than 50% of FreshDirects new hires over the past year have been Bronxites, and that as many as 1,000 new Bronx hires are planned
Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation, an arm of the borough president’s office, worked with FreshDirect.
Meanwhile, outside FreshDirect, protesters chanted slogans like “a meals on wheels for the well-heeled” and “we just want a living wage, FreshDirect makes you a slave.” The demonstrators spoke of high asthma rates, the need for public parks and waterfront access, and living-wage concerns.
The protestors said in a statement that they are supported by Congressman José Serrano, Senator José M. Serrano, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and City Councilwoman Maria del Carmen Arroyo