FreshDirect's decision to move its headquarters to the Bronx has generated opposition from some residents, but the online grocer is determined to get the commuity on its side. NY1's Erin Clarke got an exclusive first look at the company's new home and filed the following report.
FreshDirect's new home is beginning to take shape. The 800,000-square-foot building in Port Morris will consolidate the company's food manufacturing and distribution operations that are now spread among three buildings in Long Island City, Queens.
"It's got three to four stories," said Jason Ackerman, CEO of FreshDirect. "We'll also have our corporate office here, probably around 6-, 700 office workers, as well as a few thousand food workers."
The project has not exactly enjoyed smooth sailing. When he ran for mayor, Bill de Blasio bitterly opposed the Bloomberg administration giving FreshDirect nearly $130 million in tax breaks and subsidies to move to the Bronx instead of New Jersey. And local activists warned the project would bring traffic and pollution to a neighborhood already suffering high asthma rates.
As FreshDirect move forward with its project, the company is being mindful of the challenges it has faced. About a year ago, the online grocer hired someone to improve community relationships.
"We meet regularly with tenants. We have a community advisory council that meets bi-annually," said FreshDirect Public Affairs Vice President Larry Scott Blackmon. "We have local elected officials, community leaders, nonprofits, people who are really stakeholders in the community meet with us to tell us what they would like to see."
The new vice president also works to in his words clear up misconceptions.
"They showed us exactly how the trucks are going to be going in and out," said Dianne Spears, a resident of the Mill Brook Houses. "They would not be coming through our neighborhood here our community here. We would not be affected by any pollution from their trucks."
Some critics are still skeptical. They call the company's olive branches, like giving away free food, as a buy-off and say there's no compromise.
"It doesn't equal the end game, which is our ability to breathe healthier air," said Mychal Johnson, co-founder of South Bronx Unite.
But some others see an opportunity.
"This is a way to bring fresh produce, fresh food, quality food into the community," said Andrew Jackson Houses Tenant Association President Daniel Barber.
There is still time for both sides to become more comfortable with each other. The headquarters opens next summer.