27 September 2017

One of the world’s largest companies has built its logistics complex in this central Bohemian village. How does Martin Šafr remember negotiations when he was head of the village at the inception of the project?

Foto: František Vlček, MAFRA

He was the mayor of Dobrovíz in Central Bohemia between 2012 and 2016, and he was vice-mayor for the next two election periods. Today, he is only devoted to his lifelong field of geodesy. When Amazon decided to build its logistics complex in the backyard of this village behind Prague, he was right there in the mix. We talked about how he remembers that time.

When did the story of “Dobrovíz and Amazon” start?

Even when the town plan of our municipality was established, sometime around 1996, it included a commercial zone. So became the mayor, it wasn’t a question if the area would be there, but who would be. The village has big say in it but it does not decide by itself. Previously, the council mainly dealt with people who represented the landowners and organized its sale. Several investors were introduced, but most of the time it did not go through: for example, there was insufficient water supply for them or they did not like the transport connections (when the commercial zone started, there was no motorway).

And one day Amazon came?

We did not even know at first that it was Amazon. They were hiding their identity, fearing the repercussions that the entrance of such a big company would cause. In a study of a commercial zone, it was originally intended to be six halls – and their first innocent question was: “Would you mind building one big one instead of six halls?” Without using the name of Amazon or any other.

How did you react?

It did not matter to me if there were good conditions for the municipality. The council reacted the same way. Then they revealed that it was Amazon and negotiations began. The first was with the Director for Europe, Timothy Collins, and he asked us about the conditions under which we would allow Amazon to come here. We immediately thought about the transport connections: we set it up that they would either build the Dobrovíz bypass, or forget about it. It was a necessity for us, a necessary part of the project, not a bonus.

How were the negotiations?

Long and complicated, of course – no investor will immediately jump into your arms and do everything you want. The meetings often took place several days a week and occasionally stretched until the morning hours. I once again have to thank the deputies who got up in the morning for their day jobs. But in the end we negotiated the deal and I think it’s a good contract. In my opinion, it’s beneficial for the community that a strong investor came, not six small ones.

In what way?

In those bonuses. I think smaller players would not be able to provide them to us. Even in the bypass – although long planned, and the civic association “Dobrovíz Bypass”had been fighting for many years before, I soon realized that the regional officials had no money or interest when I was dealing with them. Without Amazon we would never have got it.

These bonuses are the regular financial contribution to the municipality, the planned reconstruction of the waste water treatment plant, the contribution to the fact that our citizens do not pay for sewage, municipal police were created, and ultimately the real estate tax from the hall is not insignificant.

Did you get push back from your citizens when they found out who the investor would be?

People are different and their reactions were different. The interest was great, but opposition was not as big as it was written about. Of course, those who are against something are always loudest. But I would say that they were definitely not the majority. The sharpest criticism came from the group of people whose land immediately adjoined the commercial zone, which is understandable. They founded a civic association and then they were at all the meetings. This association eventually negotiated its own separate contract with the developer. I’m sorry that the village was criticized for the lack of transparency – we were publishing all the contracts, even the drafts of contracts, which caused great complications while they still have not published their contract yet.

Did someone from the government or the CzechInvest agency meet with you?

With both. I don’t know what was going on behind the scenes, but from my point of view, CzechInvest didn’t help us. Just like the Central Bohemian region. They said things like “get a subsidy for a bypass from Europe, we don’t care,” and the then regional governor Josef Řihák was directly arrogant, giving me the impression that he did not enjoy dealing with the mayor of the village of five hundred inhabitants.

On the contrary, the Ministry of Industry and Trade helped us very much, namely the Deputy Minister Martin Kuba and Tomáš Hajdušek, who participated in the negotiations and protected and defended the municipal council very much.

Amazon has been operating here for about two years. Do you see any benefits for the village during this time? And has it been something surprising to you and what you did not originally count on?

The benefit is clearly that there are more public transport links to Dobrovíz, as the investor also contributes us to the bus line 306 and the construction of two circular ramps on the D6 motorway.

A pleasant surprise has been that concerns about an increase in traffic have not been met. The opponents were terrified that there would be three hundred trucks a day driving through the village, that there would be lots of small vans. It’s not like that at all. All traffic from the area is directly on the D6 motorway. In addition, Amazon has very few delivery vans.

What’s the story with the train stops?

It was created afterwards and mainly serves Amazon employees. There was only a request to agree to it. There was concern that our original stop in the village would be cancelled due to this. Both train stops are working for now- there is also the benefit for us that more trains lines run.

Are there representatives of the local authorities and company managers about building a tour hall? Did you have the opportunity to share your experience?

Sometimes there are calls from other offices or neighbourhoods where investors are preparing to build. Počernice asked us about Amazon and our negotiations with them, how they prepared contracts and so on.

What would you recommend to mayors in a similar situation when building an industrial hall or park in their village?

Negotiate until there isn’t validplanning permit. In the initial phase when the investor needs you, it is much better than later when you approve something. But this is not a criticism; it’s a natural for every entrepreneur. Essential things need to be negotiated in advance.

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