Bessemer OKs Tax Rebate, Fee Reductions and Transit Services to Bring in Amazon Center

Ryan Wilson, economic development manager, sits with Bradley Arant lawyers Alex Leath and Trey Hill before a Bessemer City Council meeting to discuss incentives for Amazon development. (Source: Solomon Crenshaw Jr. .

The city of Bessemer on Tuesday put the final two local pieces in place as incentives for Amazon to build an advanced robotics fulfillment center on Powder Plant Road in Bessemer.

The City Council passed three resolutions to stamp its approval on the move early in the afternoon. Later, the Bessemer Zoning Board of Adjustment approved a variance of the city’s height requirements to allow Amazon to build a facility that is as much as 60 feet in height.

Those were the last local hurdles for the company. The State of Alabama must now sign off on incentives for the company.

“Amazon saw what we’ve consistently said, that Bessemer’s a great place to live and do business,” Mayor Kenneth Gulley said. “Obviously God has shown favor on the city of Bessemer because this is tremendously huge.”

Ryan Wilson, Amazon’s economic development manager, was at the council meeting.

“We’re excited to be part of the community here,” he said. “We see a lot of great partnerships. It’s exciting because these are full-time jobs that get full-time benefits. They’re the same benefits I get as a corporate employee based in Seattle.”

Employees can also benefit from Amazon’s Career Choice Program. After an employee has worked full time for a year, that employee can get as much as $3,000 a year for four years – $12,000 total – as a tuition reimbursement.

The development package calls for Amazon to make a $325 million investment to build an 855,000-square-foot facility and create 1,500 to 3,000 jobs. The development plan for the facility calls for about 3,000 parking spaces.

Jefferson County passed a $3.3 million incentive package last week. Commissioner Sandra Little Brown said she was “hallelujah, sanctified happy” about what looks to be coming to Bessemer.

“I could really scream because this is one of the best projects in my lifetime,” she said. “Birmingham missed the big one (an Amazon headquarters) but this is bigger for me when you start talking about $14.65 an hour for our children coming out of high school.”

Tuesday, Bessemer City Council members unanimously OK’d a scaled rebate of the city’s occupational tax.

If Amazon employs at least 1,500 people at $14.65 an hour, the city will rebate 50 percent of the occupational tax for the first 2,000 employees, 55 percent for employees 2,001 to 3,000, 60 percent for 3,001 to 4,000 and 65 percent should Amazon exceed 4,000 employees. That rebate will be in place for 10 years.

The city also agreed to limit all building permit fees for the project to one fee of $200,000 and have a business license fee limit of $5,000 per year for 10 years. Additionally, Bessemer will incur an estimated expense of $40,000 a year for a Birmingham Jefferson County Transit Authority bus stop.

Alex Leath is an attorney with Bradley Arant, which is representing Amazon. He said there are a few things to work out still.

“We have a couple of things to iron out with the state,” he said. “A real estate closing has to take place, but if things go as we hope they will, we do anticipate that site prep will begin before the end of this month is out.”

Gulley said that Bessemer’s nickname of the Marvel City dates back to its rapid growth after it was founded in 1887 because of the steel industry. He said that name is definitely clearer today than it’s been in the recent past.

“I think we’ve always been marvelous but it adds another diamond in our crown, a huge diamond in our crown,” he said. “If you look at a company the size of Amazon, a name like Amazon locating in your city – or any city in America – it’s a game-changer. I’m just overwhelmed and overjoyed for the city of Bessemer.”

The height variance approved by the Zoning Board of Adjustment was needed as the planned facility will be four stories tall.

“Since we’ve never had a building of four stories in the city of Bessemer, we have to give a variance,” Gulley said. “We had not made a concession for a building that tall. Four stories is taller than any building we’ve had in the city of Bessemer.”