‘We don’t see the refinery starting’: PES site’s new owner envisions an ‘environmentally conscious’ commercial hub

  • Catalina Jaramillo/WHYY

Chicago-based Hilco Redevelopment Partners is now officially the owner of the former Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery complex in Southwest Philadelphia. The deal closed about midday Friday for a final price of $225.5 million.

Hilco’s plan is to transform the 1,300-acre site into a multimillion-dollar distribution and commercial hub, ending a legacy of 150 years of oil refining on the property.

“We feel very lucky, we feel honored,” Roberto Perez, chief executive officer of the real estate development company, said in a phone interview with WHYY. “We view this opportunity as a generational opportunity to invest in Philadelphia, do the right thing from an environmental perspective — we work very closely with Evergreen and all the different stakeholders —  to clean up the asset and then redevelop it.”

(Evergreen Resources is the Energy Transfer subsidiary in charge of cleaning up legacy Sunoco contamination at the site before PES took it over in 2012.)

Perez said the idea is to have multiple users at the site — “the Home Depots of the world, the FedEx of the world, the Targets of the world” — that need facilities for sorting and that can then take advantage of the site’s location to move their products through the port, the airport, by rail or on highways.

The redevelopment process will start immediately, Perez said, with a cleanup phase that includes the demolition and decommissioning of the refinery infrastructure. Hilco will keep and maximize the use of the Schuylkill River tank farm, pipelines, and access to the waterfront and railyards, Perez said.

“But from a refinery perspective, actually refining products here, we do not see that happening,” he said. “We do not see the refinery starting, and our vision for the project is going to meet the new economy, which is more environmentally conscious from a development perspective.”

Mayor Jim Kenney, who created a 20-member advisory group to think about the future of the refinery complex when PES shut down operations there after last year’s massive explosion and fire, welcomed the sale of what he called one of the most important commercial sites in the city. A report published by the advisory group in November, after six public meetings, concluded that a cleaner and safer use of the land was desirable.

“The action creates jobs, ensures the future commercial viability of the site, and decreases the former refinery’s environmental impact,” Kenney said in a statement. “I am hopeful that Hilco’s vision for the refinery site will be consistent with the values and priorities we heard throughout the Refinery Advisory Group process last year.”

According to Hilco executives, the site’s redevelopment will create 18,000 jobs in the next 10 years — 8,000 union construction jobs and 10,000 permanent jobs — and “rely heavily on local unions and local trades.”

“Hilco officials have assured me they will have a serious commitment to diversity and inclusion for the facility, plus will make sure that as many local residents as possible get these new jobs. I look forward to working with community stakeholders for a bright new future for the property,”  City Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson, whose district includes the property, said in a statement.

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