Hilco breaks ground on former PES refinery with plans to redevelop as e-commerce and life sciences hub

Groundbreaking ceremony at PES
Photo credit Pat Loeb/KYW Newsradio

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Three years after buying the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery in Southwest Philadelphia, the redevelopment company Hilco broke ground on converting the site to an e-commerce and life sciences hub called the Bellwether District.

A host of elected officials joined company leaders Monday for the milestone.

City Booster Bill Sasso was master of ceremonies for the hour-long event, celebrating not only what is to come on the site, but what is no longer there.

“We had explosions, fires, and the one thing Philadelphians could agree upon was that this site was not what should greet arrivals to our fair city,” he said.

The fire and multiple explosions erupted on June 21, 2019, and released more than 5,000 pounds of hydrofluoric acid into the air.

Roberto Perez, CEO of Hilco, first saw the site just a couple of months later.

“We did not see the seven flares that used to hover over the Philadelphia skyline, or the 324 tanks that needed to be decommissioned and removed, or the 23 refining units that needed to be demolished,” he said. “We saw what I believe to be the most strategic piece of real estate east of the Mississippi, if not the whole United States.”

He adds that the new use of the space will create 28,000 construction jobs and 19,000 permanent jobs, something that Mayor Jim Kenney said would improve public safety.

“It means a young man or woman [could] earn $60-70,000, sustain their families, have some dignity in their lives and don’t ever have to pick up a gun for any reason whatsoever again.”

State Senator Anthony Williams says this will “change the trajectory of poverty in Philadelphia and in Pennsylvania in ways we never expected before.”

Gov. Josh Shapiro called it a game-changer.

“For companies that want to get their products to market, I can’t think of a better place to be than right here,” Shapiro said.

The project will take 10-15 years to complete, but it’s already reduced the city’s emissions by 16%.

Featured Image Photo Credit: Hilco Redevelopment Partners