Next Stop: Dobrovíz-Amazon
The Dobrovíz municipality lies several kilometers west of the outskirts of Prague, combining a historical center with a typical suburban satellite housing development. It is located near the airport as well as the R6 express road, an important connection between Prague and Western Europe. This good accessibility draws in Prague inhabitants seeking a calmer life outside the city well as developers of logistics parks.
The local industrial zone was created twenty years ago. The Panattoni Europe development company lets their buildings to eight companies. The largest, 95,000-square-meters building is rented by Amazon, whose distribution center — taking up an area of thirteen soccer fields — is the largest separately standing industrial building in the Czech Republic. Just by looking at it, it becomes clear how pickers can walk up to ten miles a day there.
All is calm on the adjacent parking lot on a Wednesday afternoon. Dozens of buses are parked here — some plastered with signs “go to work with a smile.” Amazon drives people daily to work for free from approximately fifty destinations in the Central-Bohemian and Ústí nad Labem Regions. After 5 PM and 4 AM, the buses start moving, ferrying the employees who work in the continuous two-shift operation of the distribution center. In the lit entrance hall in the evening, Amazon’s mottos show up like “Work Hard. Have Fun. Make History.”
There is also the Dobrovíz – Amazon train stop financed by the company. The train from Prague comes here three times a day, two times as a connection designed for the Amazon shift. The highway is connected with the logistics center by “To Amazon street,” a part of the bypass that the municipality exacted from the development company. Despite frequent cleanups, it is littered with waste thrown out of the windows by truck drivers.
The historical center of Dobrovíz, a municipality of five hundred inhabitants, is within walking distance of Amazon. In front of the local municipal authority, we meet Hana Veselá, one of the founders of the Citizens for Dobrovíz association. The group was established in 2013, when neighbors from the local new housing development wanted to protest against the noise coming from the now defunct Amazon complaint center, located in the industrial park behind their houses. When citizens started to complain about Amazon’s activities, they found out that the Central-Bohemian Region in cooperation with the CzechInvest government agency had promised Panattoni the construction of a new giant warehouse for Amazon. This would include the construction of a two-lane road right under the new inhabitants’ windows.
When the association became interested in the construction of the new center, it emerged that the municipality had agreed to alter its own zoning plan without expecting anything in return from the developer. However, Citizens for Dobrovíz did not agree with such a settlement. “I had my contacts, and I knew what we could afford to demand of the developer,” Ms Veselá explains.
At the turn of 2013–14, the municipality thus became the center of media and political attention. Local authorities were visited alternately by the Minister of Industry and Trade, CzechInvest representatives as well as Panattoni and Amazon managers. Citizens for Dobrovíz questioned the environmental impact and whether it was appropriate to build this site in the vicinity of Prague where unemployment is not a problem, in contrast to other regions.
“The guys from CzechInvest were all excited. They explained how everything would work and behaved like the sun would always shine. So I asked them what would happen if by chance it rained,” Veselá says.
In the end, the municipality and Panattoni negotiated the construction of the aforementioned bypass around the town, an expansion of the waste-water-treatment facility and 1 million CZK ($50,000) annually to the local budget. Subsequently, the Citizens for Dobrovíz association, an independent participant in the building permit procedure, signed their own agreement with Amazon, based on which Panattoni built a noise barrier between the warehouses and family homes. In the end, the Amazon distribution center near Dobrovíz started to operate in September 2015.
“I believe we have exacted all we could,” comments Hana Veselá on the agreement. It is also why the association ended up deciding not to block the construction — something which some neighbors resented. “Once Panattoni was promised the warehouse construction by the Region, the building couldn’t be prevented. All we could do was negotiate the conditions with the developer,” she explains, pointing to surrounding municipalities that receive nothing from the logistics warehouses of other companies.
Ms Veselá emphasizes the marked improvement of the traffic situation in the town which had waited years for a bypass before Amazon. “Most of the time, you don’t even notice the trucks, buses, or actual Amazon employees in the town center,” she remarks. In the town, she points out a new children’s playground built with Panattoni’s finances and the local soccer club sponsored by Amazon. She mentions that besides the negotiated contributions, Panattoni also pays the municipality a property tax for the warehouses. In addition to other contributions from the nearby airport, it makes Dobrovíz a relatively wealthy town.