The Way Things Used to Be: Officials Recall Bessemer’s Heyday While Approving Incentives to Lure in Amazon

Bessemer Mayor Ken Gulley spoke about revitalizing Bessemer during Jefferson County Commission meeting. (Source: Solomon Crenshaw Jr.)

Rep. Allen Farley, R-McCalla, recalled days gone by in Bessemer when he spoke to the Jefferson County Commission Thursday morning before commissioners approved their incentive package to lure Amazon to the area.

“I can remember walking through downtown Bessemer when we had a Loveman’s, Pizitz (department stores) and everybody was working,” he said, conjuring images of U.S. Steel, U.S. Pipe and Pullman Standard, then one of the nation’s largest producers of railway cars.

“Then things started shutting down and Bessemer started suffering.”

But Bessemer can see a brighter day on the horizon as commissioners signed off on Amendment 772, which is their part of the equation to bring an Amazon advanced robotics fulfillment center to Powder Plant Road in Bessemer.

“This is going to put Bessemer back like it was 50 years ago,” Farley said. “We’re going to have families that are going to be growing. We’re going to have families moving to Bessemer instead of moving away from Bessemer.

“This is huge.”

Bessemer Mayor Kenneth Gulley was the final person to speak during the public hearing in the commission chambers.

“Obviously, I’m in favor,” he said as everyone laughed. “We know we still have a few I’s to dot and T’s to cross, but we’re very, very optimistic that this project is going to happen.”

State Rep. Allen Farley, center, talks with Jefferson County Commission President Jimmie Stephens and Bessemer Mayor Ken Gulley. (Source: Solomon Crenshaw Jr.)

Like Farley, Gulley looked back to the closing of Pullman Standard and Bessemer unemployment of 35 percent to 36 percent.

“This is the largest investment in the City of Bessemer’s history,” the mayor said. “What it stands us up to do is put us back to those days prior to when we went through the depression when we lost Pullman Standard.”

Amazon is said to be making a $325 million investment that would create at least 1,500 jobs. Farley said “a little birdie” told him that 3,000 parking spaces would be at the facility.

Incentives to Build

Jefferson County committed $3.1 million in infrastructure, a sales tax abatement on the construction and a 10-year property tax abatement to the project.

Gulley acknowledged that Bessemer’s incentive, which will be considered when the City Council meets June 12, is a scaled rebate of the occupational tax.

“For the first 1,000 to 2,000 jobs, there will be a 50 percent occupational tax rebate,” the mayor said. “For 2,001 to 3,000 jobs, it will be 60 percent. The scale goes up to 4,000 to 5,000 jobs. That’s not out of reach for what we’ve been told. We know that 1,500 to 2,000 jobs are what was guaranteed.”

Commissioners nearly passed their incentive package with a simple vote but opted instead for a roll call vote. It passed unanimously.

Gulley said Bessemer is looking not only at Amazon, but also spinoff ventures that are likely.

“This is a major game player,” Gulley said. “I think it will change the whole perspective of our city.”