Johnston mayor on Amazon distribution center: 'Project Schooner' offers town ‘financial stability for the next 20 years’


Will developers build an Amazon in the jungles of Johnston?

The timeline has yet to be settled, but Johnston’s mayor expects details will soon emerge.

“I don’t know the date yet,” said Johnston Mayor Joseph M. Polisena. “I’m waiting for the documents to come in. Once they come in, we’ll be a step closer.”

Polisena will only refer to the massive retail distribution center proposed for a wooded parcel in Johnston as “Project Schooner.”

Everyone else in town calls it “Amazon.”

Polisena will not confirm or deny whether Amazon is the entity behind the effort to build a six-story retail distribution facility near the intersection of Routes 6 and 295.

The building will have a ground floor area of approximately 823,522 square feet, and a total area of approximately 3,864,972 square feet.

Polisena will say, however, that the deal will be “very lucrative” for the town, and should provide Johnston with “financial stability for the next 20 years.”

Polisena said he is waiting for a package of documents from the officially unnamed retail behemoth, detailing an agreement between the company and the town.

Polisena said he’ll have the town’s legal counsel review the documents, and then if the documents include the details he expects, he’ll refer the matter to town council.

Johnston Town Council will open the floor to debate and then vote on whether to move forward, permitting “Project Schooner” to move beyond the planning phase, and into the building phase.

The entire process could unravel quickly, possibly in as little time as a 48-hour window.

“I think council will be very pleased with the agreement,” Polisena said. “It will be good for education, public safety, for our seniors and for our youth. I can tell you that.”

On July 20, the Johnston Planning Board gave Bluewater Property Group the green light to proceed with “Project Schooner.”

Only members of the public, in attendance both to voice support and sound alarms, said the word “Amazon” at the more than 4-hour meeting.

Polisena did not attend the meeting.

“I didn’t participate because I appoint the planning board,” Polisena said. “I’ve been working on this for a while. I can tell you that it’s going to be very very lucrative for the town. And if Project Schooner didn’t come to Johnston, it would go up the road to Smithfield, or to another town somewhere off the highway.”

Developers told the planning board that the “major land development” proposed for a stretch of mostly upland forested terrain at 2120 Hartford Ave. (Route 6), just west of the intersection with Route 295, will provide jobs to an estimated 1,000 workers.

“I think we’re actually looking at closer to 2,000 jobs,” Polisena said. “And this state needs the jobs. People lost a lot of jobs in the hospitality industry over the last year; a lot of restaurants closed and will never open again.”

More than 100 local trades union members attended the planning board meeting. Several spoke during the public comment portion.

No agreement has been finalized, however, to build the distribution center using union labor.

“That will be up to Project Schooner and the members of the trades unions,” Polisena said. “I’m confident they’ll work out an agreement. I want to see it built by members of the union. I want to see the Rhode Island men and women that are in the trades unions build it. They have a vested interest. But that’s totally up to Bluewater and the trades unions.”

Polisena said the unnamed company plans to spend “roughly, between 450-500 million dollars” on the facility.

“That’s my rough ‘guesstimation,’” Polisena said. “They want to start right away quite frankly. Schooner wants to be up and running.”

The building project is expected to take between 17 and 20 months to complete, but could be operational some time in 2023.

Polisena would offer few details, but assured critics that the company will contribute to Johnston’s tax base.

“They will definitely pay taxes,” he said. “I can’t say how much or what percentage, but they will pay taxes.”

Polisena compared the project to the huge Citizens Bank campus built several years ago, also off Route 295, which now employs approximately 3,500 people.

“Some people thought the world would come to an end with Citizens,” he said. “It didn’t. This is another situation where the world is not going to end. This agreement with schooner is much much more lucrative.”

The codename “Project Schooner,” according to several town officials who spoke under condition of anonymity, refers to what may be Amazon’s largest facility on the planet, once its built.

Polisena wants his constituents to know that he has been fighting for “safeguards” throughout the agreement.

“I think people will be very excited,” he said. “In my opinion, this is probably the best compensation package anyone could ever get.”


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