Tight-lipped Dietz & Watson frustrating local officials
DELANCO — As the rubble piles up where the former Dietz & Watson distribution center stood, local officials are feeling the rub.
They are frustrated that Dietz & Watson has not decided where it will rebuild its refrigerated distribution center, despite New Jersey offering more than $30 million in incentives for the center to be rebuilt at the Coopertown Road site, where its former 260,000-square-foot building stood before it was destroyed in a lingering fire in September.
A published report says the company is looking at a site at the former Frankford Arsenal complex near its Tacony headquarters to build the distribution center.
“We have not announced any decision and will not be commenting on any specific sites mentioned in the press. We still hope to have an announcement to share with you before the end of June,” company spokesman Steve Aaron said.
Assemblyman Troy Singleton, D-7th of Palmyra, told the Burlington County Times Editorial Board on Tuesday that he has grown frustrated by Dietz & Watson’s waffling.
“We went through great pains talking to the (Economic Development Authority) because we know how important Dietz & Watson is, and we worked diligently with the EDA to put together (an incentive) package that meets their needs. But now the good folks at Dietz & Watson are still deliberating," Singleton said.
"We said our top priority was to get people back working in Delanco, and every level of government has worked to make that happen. … It’s frustrating,” he said.
Philadelphia officials confirmed Wednesday that the City Council recently passed ordinances that relate to industrial rezoning of the Frankford Arsenal site, but they would not confirm that the property is being prepared for Dietz & Watson.
“There’s still no public disclosure of the end user,” said Eric Horvath, spokesman for Councilman Bobby Heron, who introduced the ordinances.
Sen. Diane Allen, R-7th of Edgewater Park, said that she has not spoken to officials from Dietz & Watson for several weeks, but that they gave her the impression that the acquisition of property near their Philadelphia headquarters would not necessarily preclude them from rebuilding in Delanco.
“I still hope they can acquire what they need over there and still grow what they had in Delanco,” Allen said.
According to a story in the Philadelphia Inquirer quoting unnamed sources, the city is preparing the Arsenal site for a Dietz & Watson warehouse and trucking center.
Mark Hankin, principal partner of Arsenal Associates, said he could not confirm the report, but did say his firm sold 45 acres of the 85-acre property to the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp. for $10.65 million in the last few weeks. Arsenal Associates will retain the other 40 acres and the 900,000 square feet of buildings there to redevelop into offices, schools and residences.
At the Philadelphia planning office, Luke Butler, chief of staff for Alan Greenberger, the city’s deputy mayor for economic development, said the PIDC, the Pennsylvania Governor’s Action Team and city agencies had worked together to assemble property at the Arsenal site for potential industrial use.
“At this stage, we’re unable to comment on a specific tenant,” Butler said.
A spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Governor’s Action Team also would not comment.
Delanco Deputy Mayor Kate Fitzpatrick said the township has not heard from Dietz & Watson recently.
“I’m still hoping for the best. … They’ve been a great corporate neighbor. I would hate to lose them,” Fitzpatrick said.
The township and Burlington County would lose more than $220,000 in taxes for 2014 if the meat company does not rebuild.
Allen also is trying to remain cautiously optimistic that the company will rebuild. It employed 130 people.
“It’s tough. We’re all wanting jobs for our own people, especially from businesses like Dietz & Watson. … I can’t say I know what the answer is, but I can say New Jersey has done everything it can,” she said. “If it turns out Pennsylvania goes even further, there’s not much we can do.”