HomeHampton TimesRevitalizing the riverfront

Revitalizing the riverfront

Bensalem vies against 100+ municipalities for Amazon’s second headquarters

By Samantha Bambino

The Times

Bensalem just seems to have it all — easy access to transportation, a strong sense of community and a riverfront view to boot. Within the next year or so, the township may be adding yet another bullet point to its already impressive list of features as Amazon’s new second headquarters. Though nothing is set in stone, Mayor Joseph DiGirolamo, along with State Sen. Robert “Tommy” Tomlinson and State Rep. Gene DiGirolamo, are making the case against more than 100 municipalities as to why the flourishing Philadelphia suburb should be chosen.

Building Bensalem: Bensalem is competing against more than 100 municipalities to be selected as the location for Amazon’s second headquarters. The space would mirror the company’s existing 8.1 million-square-foot Seattle location, create 50,000 new jobs and generate $5 billion in construction revenue. PHOTO: AMAZON

Last month, Amazon put out an RFP (request for proposals) to towns and cities across North America asking them to highlight why they would be the perfect location for the company’s second headquarters, the first of which is in Seattle, Washington. More than 100 responded with an introductory letter to Amazon, including Bensalem.

According to the company, the new headquarters would mirror the existing 8.1 million-square-foot Seattle location, create 50,000 new jobs and generate $5 billion in construction revenue. DiGirolamo immediately jumped at the opportunity to bring this economic boon to the community he’s called home his entire life.

“I have been saying for decades that our riverfront is ripe for redevelopment,” DiGirolamo said. “Having Amazon locate in our township, particularly in this high opportunity area, would be a huge step forward for our community, our neighbors and everyone who lives or works in Bensalem.”

To get a true sense of the areas it may want to pursue, Amazon provided only a few general guidelines, leaving it up to the municipalities to develop a proposal that explains what’s unique about them. While Bensalem meets all the basic requirements, such as being near a major highway, township officials are showing off highlights that go beyond minimum standards.

“We will paint them a picture where they can see themselves fitting in with the community,” said Bensalem Township Councilman Tony Belfield.

For him, it’s all about having the best of both worlds. Bensalem is the eighth-largest community in the state with 65,000 people and has all the features of an urban environment with a top notch police force, DNA lab and major casino. Yet there is still the feel of a quaint Bucks County community with a rich history and unique sense of place within its smaller neighborhoods, such as Andalusia and Trevose.

“It’s a community but with the technology and sophistication of an urban city,” Belfield said. “When you say you’re from Bucks County, people know what that means.”

Just like all the major cities, Bensalem has access to various means of transportation. I-95, the Pennsylvania Turnpike and U.S. Route 1 all intersect in Bensalem, two SEPTA regional rail lines run within township borders and three airports, including Philadelphia International Airport, are within a 45-minute drive, another of Amazon’s basic requirements. According to Belfield, the location would be convenient for employees from the area as well as those with a farther commute.

“You can get from point A to B without getting into a car,” he said.

Currently, there are 675 acres of largely undeveloped riverfront property available with the zoning and infrastructure already in place, which can be tailored and developed to meet Amazon’s needs.

“They could build the headquarters tomorrow,” Belfield said. “They would start on the first day as part of the community.”

If selected as the winning location, Bensalem would be adding on to its present efforts of transforming the waterfront. As part of the River Renaissance in New Bensalem effort, the council adopted eight overlay ordinances in 2015 that permit additional desired development uses on the 675-acre area, including high-tech, office space and manufacturing. In addition, the overlay promotes sustainability, green infrastructure and a walkable, interconnected community.

By mid-October, Amazon will have received its 100-plus formal proposals from interested municipalities and begin to evaluate its options to see where a second headquarters would be most beneficial. The decision should be made by early 2018 with construction underway by 2019. As township officials put the finishing touches on the proposal, they’re hopeful these efforts weren’t for naught.

“We pride ourselves on our continuing efforts to make and keep Bensalem a home for local, regional and national business and industry,” DiGirolamo said. “Bensalem fulfills, and we believe exceeds, all of the requirements that Amazon is looking for in the location for its second headquarters.” ••

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com

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