Amazon HQ2, This Could Have Been You
In the reality show that is Amazon’s search for a second headquarters, the tech behemoth is the rose-bearing bachelor in search of true love, and cities across North America are the suitors vying for its affection.
Of the 238 suitors that bid, only 20 remain. Rejected admirers have been sent away without a rose and given one last on-camera monologue to tearfully explain why they, too, have got what it takes to make the company happy.
While the whole world watches to see which of the 20 remaining cities will receive the final rose, Bisnow took a look at the rejected sites suitors pitched for HQ2. Amazon, this could have been your future.
Providence, Rhode Island: The Jewelry District
Had Amazon accepted Providence, Rhode Island’s bid, employees would be surrounded by artistic venues and museums, 400 miles of coastline and award-winning culinary experiences, Rhode Island’s proposal stated.
HQ2 could have been positioned in The Jewelry District, fulfilling the city’s long-held dream of making that area a tech epicenter. Located on a former interstate with 19 developable areas along the waterfront, The Jewelry District serves as a natural extension of Providence’s downtown, the proposal stated.
“HQ2 will make real a vision Rhode Islanders have long held for this land; namely, that this district would be the driver of Rhode Island’s economy by claiming its role as the next epicenter of the digital revolution, merging technology with design.”
An already growing transit system would have received even more attention had Amazon chosen Providence, with travel choices including train, bus, plane, helicopter, car, bike and boat. For HQ2, the airport had already pre-negotiated a new service to Seattle and San Francisco as part of the deal. Ferry service and bus shuttles were also promised for its future employees.
On the weekends, Amazon employees might spend their time dining at a restaurant in the West End, taking a woodworking class at a design school or learning to sail, the proposal suggested.
“The variety and density makes us a place for millennials, new families, and executives to thrive.”
Bay Area, California: Concord Reuse Project
Had Amazon opted to move to the Bay Area, it could have occupied the Concord Reuse Project, a remaking of the 5K-acre former Concord Naval Weapons Station 28 miles east of San Francisco. This space would have offered up 6M SF of commercial development and 12,300 housing units.
A snapshot in the life of an HQ2 employee may have resembled waking up to a view of Mount Diablo in a walkable, urban neighborhood that is currently a greenfield site.
Multi-use trails would have provided choices for the traffic-averse commuter. Future plans for retail options along the trail would have balanced out the two-thirds of green space that the city planned to keep natural and undeveloped, with hiking paths, parks and a creek corridor.
For employees who elected not to live near the HQ2 site, there would have been transit options aplenty, as outlined in the bid. Concord’s central location with two BART stations provides ready access to the San Francisco Bay Area, Silicon Valley and Sacramento.
Long-term plans would have included an opportunity for a ferry terminal at the site, Bay Area Council Senior Vice President of Public Policy Matt Regan said. “The alternatives for large employers to do private ferry service is limitless, and it’s a pretty quick and very nice way to start your day, riding the boat across the San Francisco Bay.”
Additionally, a regional airport is nearby.
Had Amazon gone with this bid, HQ2 neighbors would have included entrepreneurs, Fortune 500 companies and life sciences companies within the 3.5M SF of existing Class-A office product, 5.8M SF of industrial/flex space and 690K SF of research and development space. Concord is also near UC Berkeley and Stanford University and is home to the California State University East Bay Concord campus.
The bottom line?
“Had Amazon chosen Concord Naval Weapons Station, it obviously would have completely filled the commercial space on-site, and it would have been a huge boost for the development of the site. It probably would have accelerated the full build-out of the site by quite a number of years,” Regan said.
“Even without Amazon, all of the attributes that I explained still exist — it is an incredibly attractive location for any number of potential employers.”
Charlotte, North Carolina: Ballantyne
Not making HQ2’s top 20 list of finalists might have stung just enough on its own, but when rival city Raleigh got a rose and Charlotte didn’t? Talk about the most dramatic rejection ever.
“I’m just kind of blown away, to be honest. I’m very happy for Raleigh to be on the list but at the end of the day, if you had told me that they were going to release a shortlist of five cities and Charlotte wasn’t on it, I could see that. Even if it was 10, I could say ‘Alright, maybe,’” Carolina Fintech Hub spokesman and Charlotte City Council member Tariq Bokhari said at the time of the top 20 release. “But 20 cities, and Charlotte isn’t one of them — that’s confounding to me.”
Charlotte pitched almost two dozen sites for HQ2, including Northwood Investors-owned Ballantyne, one of the largest single-owner infill sites in the country. The area boasts 2M SF of existing Class-A office space, more than 30 Fortune 500 companies, 600 Northwood-owned hotel rooms, 500K SF of retail space, 5,200 residential units and 16 miles of biking paths and walking trails.
Amazon employees might start their days with an outdoor run along one of Charlotte’s greenways or tree-lined streets with wide sidewalks. Retail centers in Ballantyne offer errand options for a productive lunch break. Charlotte’s temperate climate allows for an abundance of after-work outdoor activities, including a round of golf at the nearby resort or dinner on a patio at one of Ballantyne’s many restaurants.
Ballantyne offers direct interstate access and is a 20-minute drive from the nation’s sixth-largest airport. With available bus service and future plans for express bus service to Charlotte’s newly expanded Lynx Blue Line and its future Silver Line, Northwood touted the South Charlotte area’s transit accessibility in its pitch.
In fact, Lincoln Harris CEO Johnny Harris named light rail as a make or break factor to win HQ2’s affection at the Charlotte Regional Partnership’s annual Jerry Awards luncheon last month. Charlotte may have lost HQ2, but so will Raleigh, he said.
“I don’t want to be negative, but I’m going to do it anyway because I hope it ends up in the press in Raleigh, North Carolina,” he said. “The Republican County Commission of Wake County did not have the vision to build light rail between Chapel Hill, Durham and Raleigh. They opposed it, and it did not get built. By the way, they’re not going to get Amazon. But if they’d built that light rail, they would have Amazon, that’s a promise. I hope they know that because it was a huge mistake.”
Ballantyne is already looking ahead after not making the cut. “We welcomed the opportunity, both as Northwood and as a participant in our region’s economic recruitment efforts, to learn from the experience. We are already proactively working to grow our technical labor force talent and take other measures we think will make us more competitive,” Northwood Office CEO Emeritus Ned Curran said.
Houston: Innovation Corridor
Houston offered Amazon its own "innovation corridor" with a choice of one or more privately owned sites in the heart of the city, along with $268M in cash and incentives, according to documents obtained by ABC13.
One of the sites listed in the document, the former Humble Oil Building in Downtown, would have offered Amazon the chance to repurpose a 1.3M SF office tower. Several adjacent land tracts would have met the 8M SF build-out. This location would have given Amazon employees proximity to multimodal transit, luxury hotels, acres of outdoor spaces, the Theater District and three professional sports teams.
Houston bragged on its diverse, global, tech-talented and business-minded city in its proposal.
“Our eclectic, culture-filled neighborhoods, restaurants and attractions offer diverse flavors that can only be found here,” the response stated. “Houston is ranked as a top city for attracting millennials largely because we offer a high quality of life paired with a low cost of living. Amazonians can afford to enjoy everything Houston has to offer because their rent is lower, groceries are cheaper and they can access more affordable healthcare than in most other major cities.”
Since its HQ2 rejection, the city has decided to move on, announcing plans to create an Innovation Hub to rival any city trying to steal its next suitor.
Irvine, California: Irvine Spectrum
A rent-only deal including the full 8M SF Amazon initially requested was still not enough to entice the e-commerce giant to come to Irvine.
Irvine Spectrum boasts 24M SF of office, 9,000 apartments and 2M SF of shopping, restaurants and entertainment. Irvine is already home to 900 technology companies, including Amazon itself.
Irvine Co. Chairman and owner Donald Bren wrote a letter to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos pitching the proposal, and his postscript might be the very definition of what Amazon passed over by rejecting this city: “P.S., It’s 74 degrees on this beautiful October day, the sun is out and the surf’s up at our spectacular beaches. Please come join us! The water, like the place, is the perfect temperature.”
New Rochelle, New York: Davids Island
Offering Amazon its own island must be akin to arriving at the Bachelor Mansion on a horse, right?
New Rochelle, just north of New York City, offered Amazon the 78-acre Davids Island that was formerly the U.S. Army base Fort Slocum.
Dubbed “Amazon Island,” it was pitched as a recreational space for Amazon employees and the rest of New Rochelle’s residents. Had Amazon accepted the proposal, employees living in the area could spend their free time on the island or maybe just traveling into the city itself, as New Rochelle is just 20 miles from Manhattan.
Orlando, Florida: Creative Village
Orlando, Florida, offered Amazon a 68-acre downtown site called Creative Village, with options to forgo a portion of its county property taxes for a decade.
The public-private development included a $485M investment in its first development phase and more than 1M SF of creative office space. The site is anchored by 500K SF of education space, including the downtown campuses of the University of Central Florida and Valencia. The Orlando proposal dubbed this area “Amazonian talent.” Rounding out the village would be up to 150K SF of retail space and up to 200 hotel rooms.
“Orlando’s evolution didn’t happen overnight. Mayor Buddy Dyer, who’s been in office for more than 14 years, has pushed 21st-century urbanism with his platform of Downtown Revitalization,” the proposal stated. “He has also galvanized our neighborhood business clusters with the creation of the Main Streets program. The resulting investment into neighborhoods in and around Downtown has turned them into signature destinations with a fluorescent array of eclectic personalities.”