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Amazon In Ajax? The Many Sites Behind Toronto's Amazon HQ2 Bid


Toronto’s bid for Amazon’s new headquarters takes the approach that more is better — offering up not one, but 10 regional sites for Amazon's consideration.

One proposed site for Amazon's new HQ would be just east of Sidewalk Labs' proposed smart city community on the waterfront.

“Part of what we wanted to stress was the vitality of the region,” said Toby Lennox, CEO at Global Toronto, which prepared Toronto’s bid to become one of 20 finalists for Amazon's HQ2.

“It was our advantage to show the entire region. Amazon already knows a lot about us already. What they didn’t know was the breadth of what we could offer.”

In Amazon’s initial HQ2 request for proposals letter to potential applicants, the company laid out in general terms what it is looking for. It includes a metropolitan area with more than 1 million people, a stable and business-friendly environment, locations with the potential to attract and retain strong tech talent and  “communities that think big and creatively when considering locations and real estate options.”

Toronto’s potential HQ communities include the expected downtown Toronto location — a proposed 100-acre site in East Harbour, and not far from Quayside with its proposed smart city to be built by Sidewalk Labs, a subsidiary of Google parent company Alphabet. 

The East Harbour property would be complemented by existing and planned downtown buildings (CIBC Square/16 York are given as examples) that would handle Amazon’s needs and expected 50,000 workers.

“There are ample real estate development opportunities across all property types in the Toronto Region to meet Amazon’s space requirements,” according to Toronto’s bid. “This includes a range of options in downtown Toronto with access to mass transit and amenities, including existing office towers with vacant space and multiple development sites that can deliver up to 40M SF.”

The Vaughan Metropolitan Centre is one of several urban communities named in Toronto's Amazon bid that is undergoing a massive transformation.

But the Toronto bid does not end with the downtown. Far from it. The document proposes sites in downtown Mississauga and Markham, the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre and sites in or near Pickering, Ajax, Brampton, Oakville, Burlington and Milton

“Alternately, Amazon can consider the Toronto Region’s developing urban centres and new downtowns, including those with subway and GO Transit access, in addition to developing greenfield areas that can accommodate a range of major office and prestige industrial activities,” the bid says. 

If the bid's diverse group of sites can be linked by anything, it is that they are not just one HQ location, but often a series of sites featuring proposed or existing buildings spread out over a large area. Lennox said one model was Amazon’s original HQ in Seattle, which he visited while the bid was being put together.

“It was what you’d expect. It was not like an urban campus, but several buildings spread through downtown Seattle,” he said. 

Lennox said in putting forward 10 sites, Toronto was showing Amazon that it had many options for handling all of Amazon’s needs — current and future. 

“[Amazon] can come to Toronto and we can supply your needs anyway you want — because we can,” he said.

Global Toronto CEO Tony Lennox

The bid sites — particularly Mississauga, Markham and Vaughan — are unique in that they are already undergoing massive transformations. In the case of the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre, which just got a subway stop linking it to Toronto's downtown, several office, retail and condo projects have broken ground or are in the planning stages. 

“It’s indicative of several sites that they don’t need Amazon for a city centre transformation,” Lennox said. “It’s already underway. We’d love to have Amazon come here. But the civic transformation is not dependent on Amazon."

Lennox said he feels Amazon’s decision on whether or not to come here is unlikely to be dependent on real estate, and Toronto’s bid reflects that.

“You have to realize that Amazon is already a massive real estate company,” he said. “They know Toronto. So we didn’t focus on real estate. We focused on talent.”