Racing to get a massive robotics warehouse completed on time, Amazon hit an inspector’s “roadblock” in March.
Frustrated with the inspector, a senior manager at the corporate giant—Amazon’s worldwide revenue topped $280 billion in 2019—fired off angry emails to the city of Goodyear’s economic managers, calling delays “unacceptable.”
Emails Goodyear provided to the West Valley View show the city eager to smooth out “challenges with communication.”
Indeed, the project near Phoenix Goodyear Airport soon got back on track. Though Goodyear started the year with a work stoppage at the same facility, the relationship between Amazon and the city rebounded and flourished through 2020.
Emails show the city obliging Amazon’s behind-the-scenes requests, pushing forward permits while keeping a major expansion announcement secret for months.
And Amazon, which promised to bring jobs to the city by the hundreds, lived up to its reputation: It delivered.
On Aug. 19, Amazon said it is building 11 facilities around Phoenix—highlighted by a Goodyear robotics warehouse on Yuma Road and South Bullard Avenue.
On Oct. 19 came another announcement: “Amazon is now hiring for more than 1,000 full-time positions ahead of the launch of its 855,000 square-foot fulfillment center in Goodyear, Arizona. Employees at this facility will work alongside innovative technologies, including Amazon robotics, to pick, pack and ship small items to customers.”
The robotics facility is almost literally in Goodyear City Hall’s backyard —2 miles southwest, even closer to the Goodyear police and fire departments and library.
An analysis of emails provided by Goodyear show Amazon and the city were even closer, enjoying a mostly cozy, mutually beneficial relationship.
Harry Paxton, Goodyear’s economic development director, said the city is happy to have the forward-thinking company expanding operations here.
“We are fortunate to have several Amazon operations here in Goodyear —their Global Incident Center, a last-mile facility, and most recently the only robotic fulfillment center in the Phoenix Valley,” Paxton said.
But he noted the process can be complex.
“Each project, especially ground-up projects like the robotics facility, has its challenges. We continue to have a very positive working relationship with Amazon and are so pleased they have located multiple operations here providing what will eventually be thousands of jobs in our community,” Paxton said.
The year barely started when a challenge arose, leading Paxton’s office to fire off a curt letter to the construction companies creating Amazon’s Prologis/Project Sol.
“It has come to the attention of the City of Goodyear that Project Sol has commenced unpermitted construction activity. This is a serious concern to the city and sets this project off in the wrong direction,” wrote Christopher Baker, Goodyear’s director of development services, in a Jan. 8 letter.
“You are directed to immediately cease and desist any construction activity that is beyond the scope of the permits issued.”
That problem was swiftly resolved: Permits were applied for and received, with construction resuming two days after the stop-work letter was sent.
Less than a week later, a string of emails show Amazon furious over another work stoppage at the same facility. The issue arose when a Goodyear inspector challenged material Amazon planned to use as support for utility trenches.
Amazon went over the inspector’s head, complaining to top Goodyear management that the project was being improperly impacted.
On Feb. 1, Hope Hall of Amazon emailed two executives at her company. The email was titled “Latest City of Goodyear Roadblock” and complained of the work of Randall Westacott, Goodyear’s chief building official.
“Because of the amount of focus on the GYR1 (Goodyear) construction progress, I want to ensure I keep both of you in the loop regarding the latest roadblock from Goodyear. In a nutshell, the city of Goodyear inspector, Randall Westacott, has disapproved our use of CLSM (controlled low strength aterial) as the backfill for our utility trenches. He considers this a concrete encasement and as of late yesterday, no amount of evidence to the contrary would sway him. We talked with him, provided him with a stamped approval letter from the Geo-tech engineer and also sent him a video what the material looks like after being placed. Regardless of our team’s professional opinions about the suitability and code compliance of CLSM, Randall stood firm.
“His decision has caused us to stop all SOG (slab on grade) pours planned for this weekend. Additionally, if we now must switch to a traditional backfill, we are just adding time to the schedule,” Hall wrote.
“I don’t think the message that Tom delivered earlier this week to the city of Goodyear has trickled down to the inspection team,” she added, referring to Tom Florino, an Amazon senior manager.
“We are not asking for an inspection ‘pass.’ All of the professionals are standing in our corner. I think Tom needs to make another call or perhaps a visit with the city,” Hall concluded.
Florino first replied swiftly to Hall: “I’m hardly an expert on construction materials, but this seems like the same rigid, inflexible thinking that you’ve encountered again and again.”
Then, Florino fired off a heated email to Paxton and Lori Gary, Goodyear’s economic development director.
“This unexpected delay is unacceptable,” Florino wrote. “We’ve been forced to stop this work over the weekend, which adds time. And switching materials at this point would add additional time as well.
“I think we will need to work together to convene parties next week to resolve these issues in a meeting. I’m not sure that the launch risk we’ve discussed is being taken seriously by planning and engineering staff.”
After receiving the email on a Saturday, Gary replied the following Monday morning to Florino.
“I’ve had a conversation this morning with Prologis and, separately, with members of our internal team,” Gary wrote. “After speaking with Prologis and internally, I believe there may be some challenges with the communication on this project.
“At present, I’m setting up an internal meeting to discuss this project and the timeline needed to get you into the building.”
The West Valley View asked city representatives how the building materials dispute was solved, if the inspector was overruled and if Amazon received any preferential treatment.
“It’s certainly not the case” that the company received special treatment, said Paxton. “As part of our ongoing partnership with Amazon, early on in the development process the city and Amazon discussed this project (the robotics facility) and its importance in Amazon’s strategic supply chain.
“Amazon and Goodyear’s goal was to meet a strict deadline while assuring an environment which is safe for all,” he said.
As for the inspection “roadblock” Amazon complained about, Paxton said, “Having a field modification doesn’t imply that an inspector was overruled. It means that the inspector identified something that wasn’t included in the permitted set and that there was a modification made to make it code compliant.”
And, Paxton stressed, “It’s important to know that it is normal and expected that projects of this scale have modifications during construction.”
Plans kept quiet
By the end of January, Goodyear clearly knew about Amazon’s aggressive expansion plans—yet the city kept the plans secret.
A Jan. 28 email to Paxton from an Amazon staffing contractor outlined hiring plans:
“After double checking our timeline, we plan to begin hiring the first week of August through mid September. ... I look forward to the continued partnership with Amazon and city of Goodyear.”
An email from an Amazon Public Policy staff member, also sent Jan. 28, made it clear what the hiring would be for:
“Thanks for your time today—appreciated the opportunity to connect with the mayor about the Amazon robotics fulfillment center,” wrote Ellie Booth.
She provided the contact information for another Amazon staffer, “who can help answer your questions about employment numbers and any specifics about the facility.”
A week later, on Feb. 4, an Amazon regional construction manager emailed Paxton:
“As you know, Amazon will have another project getting underway shortly in Goodyear,” Hall wrote. “We are excited to continue to build in your city.”
Aside from occasional check-ins, emails between Goodyear’s economic development staff and Amazon slowed to a trickle—until August, when things heated up.
The city and the corporation exchanged a flurry of emails, coordinating wording on Amazon’s announcement of the robotics facility.
Amazon made suggestions for minor changes in Mayor Georgia Lord’s statement for a press release—and the city again obliged.
After ironing out details, Amazon and Goodyear sent out coordinated press releases, then joined forces to greet television cameras at Project Sol.
The same site where construction was shut down by the city in January was ready for its closeup eight months later.
Amazon clearly was confident the city would work with it efficiently, as it had in the past.
As Goodyear’s Gary said, in a March email to Amazon senior managers, “We recently offered an opportunity to Prologis to quickly get through the remaining review and permitting process on Project Sol. Additionally, our weekly meetings have been positive as we work together to move Project Sol forward.
“Rest assured your projects are top of mind.”