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Hilco Breaks Ground On First Building Of $4B Bellwether District At Former Southwest Philly Refinery

Gov. Josh Shapiro speaks at the groundbreaking of a distribution center at Hilco Redevelopment Partners' Bellwether District on Monday.

A lone tent in an expanse of dirt was an inauspicious place for elected officials and business leaders to speak of "game-changers" and "transformation," but they were celebrating more than just what broke ground on Monday.

Hilco Redevelopment Partners began vertical construction on a 326K SF industrial building, the first component of its $4B Bellwether District project on the former site of the PES refinery. At full build-out, HRP's 14M SF master plan for logistics, manufacturing and life sciences buildings on 1,300 acres is projected to generate 28,000 union construction jobs and 19,000 permanent jobs over its 10-plus-year timeline.

Gov. Josh Shapiro, Hilco Redevelopment Partners CEO Roberto Perez, Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson and Philadelphia Building Trades Council Business Manager Ryan Boyer talk before breaking ceremonial ground at HRP's Bellwether District in Southwest Philly.

Those massive job numbers were the reason for such enthusiasm by Gov. Josh Shapiro, Mayor Jim Kenney, District 2 Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson, Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, state Sen. Anthony Williams, Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council Business Manager Ryan Boyer and HRP CEO Roberto Perez, among other speakers.

The jobs, plus HRP's promise to contract with 50% minority- and- women-owned businesses, were also why Johnson, whose district encompasses the refinery site, was "all in on Day 1," he said at the event. 

"What it means is public safety," Kenney said of the jobs promised by HRP. "It's going to make people safer, happier and healthier."

The elevated foundation for Lot 15, the first warehouse being developed by Hilco Redevelopment Partners at the former PES refinery. Center City, to the north, is visible in the distance.

Nearly all of the heavy machinery, pipes and refinery equipment that covered the site have been cleared, environmentally remediated and leveled. HRP's decommissioning of the refinery is "substantially complete" a year ahead of schedule, the company said in its press materials. Philadelphia's emissions are down 16% since the refinery's last year in operations, HRP and elected officials said.

Hilco Redevelopment Partners CEO Roberto Perez speaks at the groundbreaking.

Missing from all the speeches was any mention of the potential impact of a logistics and/or manufacturing-heavy mix of industries, which HRP plans for the 750-acre southern portion of Bellwether. The project's first phase includes the 326K SF building on the 23-acre Lot 15 and a 727K SF building on the adjacent 46-acre Lot 16, which could break ground in as little as three months, the Philadelphia Business Journal reports.

The environmental and traffic impact of Bellwether District have been points of concern for neighboring residents already impacted by the historic pollution of the refinery. Elected officials at the event praised HRP for being good neighbors and engaging with the community. 

District 2 Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson speaks at the Bellwether District groundbreaking, flanked by Hilco Redevelopment Partners CEO Roberto Perez and Mayor Jim Kenney.

"Hilco has delivered on a project like no one has delivered in my time in office," Williams said. "Community members will now trust us when they walk onto this site." 

Discussions between HRP and neighborhood groups on a community benefits agreement are ongoing.