Amazon put cities across North America on notice Thursday that it’s looking for a place to locate a second headquarters.
The new site, dubbed HQ2 in Amazon-speak, would be a “full equal” to the existing headquarters in Seattle. That means 50,000 jobs, including corporate leaders, engineers and software developers. It also means $5 billion invested in construction.
Amazon is even putting out a formal Request for Proposals, and says it’s seeking the following:
- Metro area with more than 1 million people
- A stable and business-friendly environment
- Urban or suburban location with the potential to attract and retain strong technical talent
- Communities that think big and creatively when considering locations and real estate options
It also “could be, but does not have to be” an urban campus, a site that’s already prepped for development or a similar layout to Amazon’s Seattle campus, the company said.
So, is Baltimore — a metro area with 2.7 million people, a growing tech community, some large swaths of urban real estate that could use improvement and an existing Amazon fulfillment center — interested?
Yes, says Mayor Catherine Pugh.
The mayor tells Technical.ly she met with Baltimore Development Corporation President Bill Cole and intends to “pursue this opportunity aggressively.”
“Baltimore’s strategic location in the mid-Atlantic and its accessibility via highway, rail, port and air, make us a great fit for Amazon’s second headquarters,” Cole said. “Also, we’ve worked with Amazon in the past when they opened their distribution center and they know that we can be a good partner.”
— Eric Costello (@CouncilmanETC) September 7, 2017
That leaves the question of where the site could be located. The size of the site is another big consideration, as the RFP calls for 8 million square feet of office space.
Port Covington immediately stands out. An Under Armour headquarters is already in the works at the 266-acre site. Sagamore Development, which is backed by Under Armour founder Kevin Plank, immediately said it is ready to work Amazon into their plans.
“More than any other place in the country, Baltimore City and Port Covington would be a perfect home for Amazon’s second corporate headquarters,” Sagamore Development President Marc Weller said in a statement. “Port Covington has the available land with a prime waterfront location on the east coast, adjacent to I-95, with ready access to international airports, rail, ports and other distribution points. Greater Baltimore boasts an entrepreneurial, creative and diverse local workforce that is growing every year and could easily support the 50,000 jobs needed for Amazon to fill. Along with Under Armour, having another major innovative company’s headquarters at Port Covington would be a huge boon for Baltimore City and its workforce. We will work with state and local officials to aggressively pursue this opportunity.”
To get some perspective, we reached out to Klaus Philipsen, an architect who has consulted on public works projects. He is president of the downtown firm ArchPlan, and shares observations at the blog Community Architect Daily.
Philipsen said the area including Port Covington and Westport (which is also owned by Plank) is one of the only spots in the city that is large enough for what Amazon is requiring, and is primed for development as the company listed in its nice-to-haves. Plus, the development outside of Under Armour in the neighborhood has yet to be fully worked out.
City leaders have also talked about new development in the Park Heights area around Pimlico Race Course. Philipsen said that would need more infrastructure work.
The city isn’t the only local entity to show interest. Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz is also interested in getting in the race.
— Baltimore County (@BaltCoGov) September 7, 2017
Kamenetz said Tradepoint Atlantic, Greenleigh at Crossroads in Middle River and Spring Grove in Catonsville, are all potential sites.
Philipsen pointed to the 3,100-acre Tradepoint Atlantic site in particular as potentially having the capacity for HQ2. Tenants are signing onto the former site of Bethlehem Steel in Sparrows Point, but there is still room. The site has lots of logistical advantages and “could be a huge player in the entire northeast region.” But infrastructure, including transit connections, would have to be built around it, Philipsen said.
And the competition won’t only be local. Leaders in cities like Philly and Wilmington, Del., were just as eager to say they were going to put in a proposal.
The promise of jobs is undoubtedly tantalizing. But there’s another way to look at the way Amazon released the proposal. ArchPlan’s Philipsen said the public release is not only “highly unusual,” but also indicates the company is essentially asking for cities to put together incentive packages to lure them in.
“It sheds a light on how perverted the process has become in accommodating highly profitable corporations,” he said.
He is skeptical of whether Baltimore or Maryland could compete with other cities on that front.
“If we don’t build an alternative story on why we would be the best location, we are not going to be able to compete,” he said.
Along with the geographical advantages the city has, Philipsen believes Baltimore could present itself as a place where Amazon could help its own image.
“Do they owe society something, and could Baltimore turn this around and say, ‘We want you because we asked you right from the get-go to be a partner in recovering an industrial legacy city’?” he said.
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