If Amazon picks Philly for HQ2, here's one neighborhood that could host it - Technical.ly Philly

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Sep. 8, 2017 12:56 pm

If Amazon picks Philly for HQ2, here’s one neighborhood that could host it

Benjamin's Desk's Adam Glaser has designed 2.5 million square feet of corporate campus. We asked him where HQ2 could fit in Philly. Callowhill, anyone?

Where in Philly might a huge corporate campus fit?

(Photo courtesy of J. Fusco/Visit Philadelphia)

“Amazon Idol,” day 2.

Let’s try and recap the varied reactions to Amazon’s announcement that it’s looking for a new North American town to expand its Seattle headquarters, shall we?

In Philadelphia, Mayor Jim Kenney, the Department of Commerce and one of the area’s top investors said they wanted to make this happen. A similar chorus was heard from local governments across the country, in towns like Boston, Chicago, St. Louis, Milwaukee, Baltimore, Wilmingtonthe list goes on.

And though it’s super early to think about what a 50,000-employee campus might look in Philadelphia, we asked a local architect with experience in designing these kinds of life-altering corporate behemoths. It’s a project that holds the potential to drastically change Philly, for better or worse.

Benjamin’s Desk Chief Design Officer Adam Glaser — a Harvard architect who led the design effort behind 2.5 million square feet of corporate campuses at Wyeth (now Pfizer) and AmGen — was one of my first calls yesterday when news of the site search broke.

“From 2005 to 2007, I went to Seattle like 30 times in two years,” said Glaser. “I got to know the city well. South Lake Union [where Amazon’s HQ1 relocated to in 2009] is one of the most unique areas in the U.S., but back then it was then essentially abandoned. Over time it evolved and became similar to what NoLibs is today.” (Editor’s note: Reminds us of Port Covington in Baltimore, which is also angling for HQ2.)

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"A lot of towns can give them tax breaks and buildings, but what they want is quality of life."
Adam Glaser

Where in Philly might something like a $5-billion campus even fit? The suburbs might be your first guess, but you’d be wrong, Glaser said.

“Amazon wants a cool big city like Seattle that’s accessible,” the architect said. “They’re going to want to build districts around them where collaborators can be around it. I think you have to ask where is half a square mile to build an enormous campus in town, something more horizontal than vertical.”

Though many places have so far been suggested (so far we’ve heard: the Navy Yard, Schuylkill Yards, North Philly, Manayunk and King of Prussia) the architect points the compass to the north side of Callowhill, in a development that would connect Callowhill, Spring Garden, Fishtown and NoLibs.

“They’re not going to go out to the suburbs: Philly’s strength is a strength as a city,” said Glazer. A lot of towns can give them tax breaks and buildings, but what they want is quality of life.”

Another perk of the proposed site: development money goes much further when working with existing infrastructure vs. what’s known as a “greenfield project.” It will eventually come down to seeing if the existing inventory of buildings and sites can accommodate Amazon’s idea of a second HQ. Its first campus, for comparison, has a total of 33 buildings.

“I really want to see our city step up and not play the ‘we’re not worthy’ game,” said Glaser. “A company like that embedded in our city would take us to a completely different level.”

What might Callowhill residents say? You bet we have an email out to the neighborhood association.

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VIEW COMMENTS
  • Robert Cheetham

    I’m on the Callowhill Neighborhood Association board and Azavea is based in Callowhill. Alongside the Navy Yard, if you think of Callowhill as the space between Broad and Front and between Vine and Spring Garden (which is a larger area than the CNA boundaries), there is an enormous amount of land that is largely unused and the connections to the rest of the transportation network are stronger than the Navy Yard. It would be a unique and extraordinary place for their headquarters.

    • Herb Lau

      Amazon and its 50,000 employees would solve the main problem (READ AS difference between Old City, University City and Callowhill) that Callowhill has right now, pedestrian activity. On the flip side the tremendous land and building parcels that are available there (if let go of by random speculators and long-term buy and hold property folks) is definitely unmatched anywhere else in the city. From a civic and public policy point of view, putting Amazon there would ideally allow acceleration of the wage and business privilege tax reductions and overall tax simplification. And there’s enough places within walking/easy commuting distance both to live and do other things.

      • Michael Bertoni

        @herblau:disqus – I’m saying this with really liking the idea of Amazon in Callowhill, but unless the major improvements I mentioned above are not done then I think Amazon would feel somewhat land locked in that area. New roads, bridges, subways, etc or changes to existing transportation would need to be aligned to the buildout of the Headquarters

        • Herb Lau

          I think the Callowhill area (Broad to Front, Spring Garden to Vine) is large enough to accomodate all of that over time. The narrow city streets are always going to be a problem for the city. Penn’s “green country town” coming back to bite us, but that can be worked around. Again preparing for and phasing in all the employees, buildings, etc. would allow the subway renovations, regional rail replacement, tax changes and adjustments to be phased in. But right off the bat, there’s a roughly city block size parcel ready for new construction of first office building (parking lot, 12th and Callowhill). The proximity to the rest of the city will help, and the overall bikability and existing metro system will help also.

    • Michael Bertoni

      @robertcheetham:disqus would love to help the efforts here to drive this. Let rally support and make it happen

  • Bill Kaufmann

    I moved here from Seattle a couple years ago. Can’t see Amazon wanting to go to any area that has an income tax and a relatively small pool of technical talent from local universities. Philly is dreaming.

    • MackeyDIngo

      Your free advice is worth what we paid for it.

    • Michael Bertoni

      Hey @billkaufmann:disqus Please read what I said above to “Unknown”. We need to THINK BIG and Amazon coming here would be a major catalyst for change. It takes a little while to build a 50,000 person office complex. I think our city, state and local officials are very smart and can put together an extremely attractive package for Amazon. Yes, we will have to make changes around Amazon in order to win the deal, but I think we can. On a side note did you happen to see the NFL Draft in Philly, the 5 story building that was built and the millions of people that came to Philly as a result? Also, did you notice the Comcast Innovation Tower going up? Or the FMC Tower that popped up? Take a look at the Philly skyline when I moved here in 2004 – https://goo.gl/images/1sPZFs – Now take a look at it in 2018 – https://goo.gl/images/4LJNfk – 30th street station redone, building built, Comcast Center, Comcast Innovation Center, FMC, CHOP, Pennovation Center, Countless new high-rise condos and apts. Also, back in 2004 there was 1 co-working space. Now there are 30+. Major change has been coming and is still coming due to all the POSITIVE things about Philly

  • Unknown

    Never going to happen… sadly and Philly only has itself to blame. You could not pick more polar opposite cities than Seattle to Philly.

    Philly has an outdated transit, tax code, and let’s be honest the city is filthy. Plus comcast has a strangle hold on Philly tech and even they outsource most of their employment.

    And thank goodness for our beloved local income tax.

    My best guess it will be Chicago, Nashville or New York

    • Rich Granato

      Well put, and your observation is spot on. For all the city prides itself on its “rough and tumble” image, there is no getting around it’s glaring deficiencies. I’ve been working on the construction and reconstruction of the east market area for some 5 year’s now. That so many women will even walk these streets with open toed shoes astonishes me, a hard hat guy. There are needles everywhere. To boot, the addicts are definitely getting more aggressive. I have had to threaten more than a few. Panhandle? OK I can deal with that…grab me? No

      • Rodney Jenkins

        LOL

      • BobSmith77

        Needles everywhere? Are you one of the yahoos who lives in the suburbs and makes these kind of ridiculous comments?

    • Murray Roth

      things can change, Septa is getting better and they are getting money to fix tracks etc. If we get 50,000 tech workers, think of all the taxes they will be paying. Then maybe the wage tax can be lowered. Chicago and NY are just as dirty.

      • Herb Lau

        Yea, Philly is the dirtiest I’ve ever seen it in my 40 years, and I think that’s something that can and should be fixed. But this is just the thing to kickstart the improvements to SEPTA, tax changes, etc.

    • Michael Bertoni

      Negative attitudes like this is what keeps the Eagles from ever winning a Championship. Lol and Philly people focused on all the negative crap instead of the positive things. Here is the reality “Unknown” that I don’t think you understand. An event like bringing Amazon here could be the catalyst that takes all the negative things you mentioned and makes Philly city, state and local governments CHANGE these things for the better of EVERYONE. Make sense?

  • Jodee Vallone

    The West Coast (Seattle, Bellevue, San Francisco, LA, San Diego) has so much talent, but high cost of living. Philadelphia is reasonable cost of living compared to San Fran and LA. If Amazon could compliment Comcast to create innovative jobs, then maybe we would keep our talent once they graduate from top schools: University of Penn, Drexel, Temple, University of Delaware, and Rutgers. I’ve spent so much time on the West Coast for video game development and now AR / VR development that the East Coast is off the radar in Tech. We could position ourselves being near Europe and India, with an international airport with direct flights. Access to the NYC financial markets. Guys, Philly can find the space if Amazon wanted to relocate here.

    • Eric King

      Agreed. I am always surprised at the self loathing in Philadelphia. The big difference between Philly and the other places that people are mentioning is $$$. We need more big employers in Philly and we already have the space and talent for them. Philly checks off most of Amazon’s boxes and if there is the political will, it can check off all of them …

    • Michael Bertoni

      @jodeevallone:disqus I don’t agree with the premise that Seattle, Bellevue, San Fran, LA or San Diego has any more tech talent then the Philly region. Take a look at my post above. The reality is that most companies have no idea how to recruit talent, keep recruiting talent and never stop recruiting talent. Take a look at my blog that was published by DiscoverOrg Software – https://phillytech.co/phillytech-recruiting-as-a-service-published-by-discoverorg/ – The Tech talent is here Philly and it spans down to Wilmington, out to Malvern, out to Princeton and Doylestown. The Philadelphia region is BIG, but at the same time it’s siloed into pockets throughout the region within many companies. Do you realize we have 30 companies in the region within the Fortune 500 and Fortune 1000 – https://www.bizjournals.com/philadelphia/news/2015/06/05/fortune-1000-includes-another-18-local-companies.html – and in looking at the list that doesn’t even Include Dupont and all the major Financial companies in the Wilmington area

  • M. Kravat

    I love how people are complaining that Philly doesn’t have enough tech talent for Amazon’s needs. That’s just not true. We have quite a number of colleges in the area and all of their STEM graduates leave the area for more lucrative positions in, you guessed it, Silicon Valley and Seattle. We have plenty of tech talent. We just don’t keep it in Philly.

    • Michael Bertoni

      The problem with what you read about with Tech Talent in Philly is that Philadelphia county, where most people outside of Philly think is Philadelphia is very small portion of the overall tech talent in the Philadelphia region. When you are trying to find tech talent in Philadelphia you have the ability to pull from South Jersey, right below Princeton, Northeast Philly and all the counties outside of Philly stretching to Doylestown area, Collegeville area, KOP, Malvern, Wayne, Media and Wilmington. I’ve been working in software and tech for 18 years and attitude for the Philly region has always been “It’s a B Market”. I don’t agree with this, but the perspective has always been that a software or tech startup should be in Silicon Valley, NYC, Boston, possibly Chicago for “A Markets” and then Philly. Here’s another perspective. If you start up a software / tech startup in Silicon Valley, where the majority start, where would you think to put your East Coast Office? Most on the West Coast would say NYC/Boston, but I firmly believe that Philadelphia is the best place to put your East Coast Headquarters. From Philly you can access the majority of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions (down to DC/Northern Virginia) by car or train with 2-3 hours and the Philly region is rich with Blue Chip large companies and mid-size that you can sell into. Getting a gem like Amazon, along with the 2018 Comcast Innovation Center would put Philly on the map and change the landscape of how people think on the West Coast. Penn, Wharton, Drexel, Temple and all the great Philly suburb school students would stay here and we would attract more people to come here. The cost of living is so low here and with the many tax abatements the city wage tax issue is not even an issue compared to the total cost of living in NYC or the West coast

      • BobSmith77

        It isn’t so much the talent but the lack of an anchor IT firm as well as the investment infrastructure to start and shepherd startup firms.

        Philly should have been an insurance of finance IT hub that missed the boat there too. Atlanta has thrived in the financial IT field with several areas of financial IT.

    • plugh70

      It depends on what you mean. The region has a lot of tech talent graduating from colleges. It does not have a lot of tech talent to poach from other companies. While there are some tech jobs here, it pales in comparison to Silicon Valley or Seattle.

  • Christopher M. Goffigon

    Please, “DO NOT PUT, IT IN “CHICAGO,TO MANY GANGS”,PUT IT IN PHILADELPHIA, THANKS… ???

    • Rodney Jenkins

      I dont know whats worse.. getting shot by a gang in Chicago or getting stuck by a “dirty” needle by a fiend in Kennsington

  • T3S Podcast

    Kenney is on crack. As run down as our infrastructure is, and with Wage + Business use + property + state + rain runoff + soda taxes, high crime and garbage schools…why would a company from a civil society in a tax free state come here when Delaware is 29mi South and a blank slate to mold? Even Baltimore, Detroit and Cleveland have better tax structures, with less corruption.

    • Herb Lau

      That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Every possible choice has negatives that work against it. I referenced the tax structure myself above, but this could be the right kick to take a major whack at the tax structure. Accelerate wage tax reduction, reform the tax code, eliminate the net profits tax, reduction in the new home tax abatement, could all be enabled through something like this.

    • traderjim7

      Baltimore has a thousand times more corruption than Philly will ever have. I say this as a Baltimore native.

  • Karig2

    Philly needs to do whatever it can to attract Amazon. Tax breaks, incentives, whatever. It will be well worth it in the long rug. Every big city has problems and issues, but they don’t all have such an incredible location as Philly has. I encourage mayor Kenney to do whatever it takes….push the envelope…make it happen. We will all thank you, big time!

    • Michael Bertoni

      Agree with everything @Karig2:disqus

  • Michael Bertoni

    It would be nice if someone put a map of where this “North of Callowhill Area” is so I’ll help – http://www.visitphilly.com/philadelphia-neighborhoods/ -See where Callowhill is in the the right top area and then look at the large square white area that is non named and above Callowhill. This would be unbelievable as I think the Fairmount section of the city in the best in the city (I’ve lived there for 14 years). I would hope that this could drive the entire area to have the same tax benefits of other areas of the city. Some of the big issues that would need to be fixed for this area to work for Amazon would be (1) Traffic – it sucks over there – we would need to have a plan in place to fix this (2) Public Transportation – It’s not too easy to get in and out of there – the subway going North and South on Broad would need to be improved (3) Higher Crime – this would have to be taken out. This event could potentially change Philadelphia in a big way. There is no reason why larger buildings and high-rises couldn’t be created in multiple areas of Philly. Lets think BIG! When you look at that map and envision a rectangle around that entire area how does an area like this compare to Manhattan? Robert Cheetham? I know you can pull up high res images of the entire landscape. Lol. If you think about Manhattan what makes it great is that there is Central Park right in the middle. Philly also has a great park, called Fairmount Park, which is one of the largest parks in the country and is completely underutilized. It’s a massive, beautiful park and Philly really isn’t doing anything with it. Zoom in on this map of Philly – https://goo.gl/maps/1Fc1hxtyZtH2 – I really like the idea of North of Callowhlll, but what about a massive Amazon campus either contained within or around Fairmount Park? Nearer to the Please Touch Museum, Smith Memorial Playground, Mann Center, Strawberry Mansion, etc. This would be closer to 76 and better transportation improvements in this area would benefit everyone inside and outside of the city. Who is leading the charge with putting together a proposal for Amazon? I would love to help. mbertoni@phillytech.co

  • BobSmith77

    Biggest issue doesn’t have anything to do with Philly. It is the GOP leadership (or lack of it) in Harrisburg. No way they are going to work with Kenney or Democratic leadership to put together a huge package that will need a lot of state-based tax incentives and credits.

    They loathe Philadelphia even though if you took the tax base in Philly and its adjoining counties (Chester, Delaware, Bucks, and Montgomery) that state would be insolvent.

  • plugh70

    I agree the area Callowhill to Spring Garden east of Broad (especially east of 9th to I-95) is the prime area of the city for development, and would be great as a “tech zone,” even without Amazon. From what I’ve read, Amazon is looking for low tax locations, though. But if you want a major city with transportation infrastructure, there are few that match Philly.

  • traderjim7

    As I have heard it, Amazon is not looking to locate in a city, but in the suburbs, with good public transportation into the nearby city. The metro area should have more than a million people, and they have tossed around a site size of about 50 acres. There are several areas in the Philly suburbs that would be viable, and possibly even a large enough site in the Northeast. But again, they don”t want to be in a city, probably because the cost of doing business is always more in any city as opposed to the suburbs.

    The Callowhill site, or any site in Center City would be a disaster. The infrastructure could not handle it, and the present residents will wonder what happened to their once peaceful neighborhoods.

  • ? Steven Burda, MBA

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