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Amazon’s new HQ: How cities are making their case

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Which city may win this $5 billion Super Bowl of economic development?

Amazon’s new biospheres in Seattle. Other North American cities, with news Amazon is planning to build a second headquarters, hope to attract the tech giant.
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As economist Jed Kolko put it yesterday on Twitter, “Thank you, @amazon, for making site selection great again.”

The announcement that Amazon plans to build a second headquarters in North America, and will accept proposals from cities until October 19, has led to a frenzy of speculation, urban planning debates, and mayoral jockeying for what may be one of the most impactful developments in the country: an “HQ2” that would house up to 50,000 highly paid employees and cost upward of $5 billion.

Civic leaders and boosters began debating and discussing the merits of their respective cities quickly after the news broke and the requirements were released. Those precise requirements—including metro areas with more than one million people, a stable, business-friendly environment, urban or suburban location that can retain tech talent, proximity to major highways and an international airport, access to mass transit—spurred seemingly every major city except Seattle to express interest in one way or another. Meanwhile, a series of lengthy Twitter threads and discussions initiated or led by Richard Florida made cases for dozens of cities.

This takes the compulsion to create innovation hubs to a new level, and leaders are convinced that landing the project, one of the biggest real estate deals of the decade, will lead to transformative development for their city. Local leaders have already started formulating pitches, and many Curbed cities have already begun to make a case for themselves. To keep track of this Super Bowl of site selection, we’ve compiled some of the top contenders, their pros and cons, and even potential locations for the new HQ.

Chicago

Pros: Curbed Chicago editor A.J. LaTrace says that in addition to its “top transit system” and long history as a centralized rail and airport hub, Chicago’s mercantile history as the birthplaces of catalog powerhouses such as Sears and Montgomery Ward make it a great home for 21st century retail. “While e-commerce is undoubtedly a different kind of animal, it can be argued that Amazon is the 21st century equivalent of those pioneering mercantile titans,” he writes. The city is also home to a rapidly developing tech scene, and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has already spoken about the project with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, according to John Pletz of Crain’s.

Cons: Chicago and Illinois have faced serious budget and fiscal issues for years, with the state going years without a budget. In addition to uncertainty, that makes the potential for a competitive incentives package more remote.

Potential sites: Chicago has plenty of potential buildings ripe for creative reuse as a new Amazon headquarters: the Old Post Office building and its 2.5 million square feet of large, tech-friendly office space, the Chicago Tribune’s 30-acre riverfront Freedom Center, Related Midwest’s 62-acre development site between the South Loop and Chinatown, and Sterling Bay’s 28-acre former Finkl Steel site near Goose Island.

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Atlanta

Pros: As far as logistics go, Atlanta’s massive international airport makes it a real contender. It’s on the East Coast, broadening Amazon’s reach, climate is great, and as Curbed Atlanta notes, it boasts the brainpower of Georgia Tech, a large white-collar talent pool, as well as a number of other sizable corporate headquarters, such as Mercedes-Benz, Anthem, GE Digital, and Honeywell.

Cons: The city’s housing prices have shot up considerably in the last few years, meaning Amazon might set up in a second relatively expensive market.

Potential Sites: A Curbed Atlanta reader wrote in to suggest The Gulch, a massive, under-developed stretch of land downtown.

Detroit Q Line Michelle & Chris Gerard

Detroit

Pros: The price is certainly right, argues Curbed Detroit, and landing this kind of massive development would be a perfect coda to the story of the Motor City’s resurgence. There’s extensive developable land near downtown, the city has plenty of highly educated tech and engineering talent, and it’s not an area prone to natural disasters/flooding like some of the other coastal candidates. Detroit businessman Dan Gilbert is reportedly forming teams to investigate a proposal.

Cons: Detroit lacks an extensive mass transit system, and it’s not the most favorable climate. While its tech economy is growing, is it big and diverse enough for Amazon?

Potential Sites: Curbed readers suggested Michigan Central Station and Cadillac Palace as potential spots for redevelopment, or even the old Packard Plant.

JTB/UIG via Getty Images

Philadelphia

Pros: Forget the cute, punny tweet by the city’s mayor, Jim Kenney, about Amazon’s RFP. Philly makes a strong case. The city boasts a wealth of talent and universities and offers a prime place to establish an east coast hub, according to Curbed Philly editor Melissa Romero. Philly offers the advantages of other northeastern cities at a fraction of the price.

Cons: While real estate may be cheaper, the city does have relatively high business taxes.

Potential Sites: Romero offers a few suggestions: The Navy Yard, around Grays Ferry, where the Pennovation tech incubator is located, or perhaps in the future Schuylkill Yards or uCity Square innovation hubs.

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Los Angeles

Pros: The second-biggest city in the country certainly has the population, transit system, and access to larger transportation networks. But its biggest selling point is talent, especially in the media industries. This would be a perfect way to really bolster the already large ambitions for Amazon Studios, which has a big office in Santa Monica.

Cons: The city has a handful of things working against it, including high housing costs and the potential redundancy of having two West Coast headquarters.

Potential sites: That may be one of the largest cons, according to Curbed LA associate editor Bianca Barragan; there a dearth of fitting locations to develop such a massive project.

New York City

Pros: Population, transit, transportation access; New York, by dint of its size and influence, has a lot of massive selling points. For a company with media, retail, and even fashion aspirations, there’s a lot to be gained by choosing the city for an East Coast hub. New York has positioned itself as an East Coast rival to Silicon Valley, according to Curbed New York’s Amy Plitt.

Cons: Of course, all these advantages come at a cost. Many commenters believe that New York would be prohibitively expensive.

Potential sites: Could the Norman Foster-designed tech complex in Red Hook, on the Brooklyn waterfront, be a potential future home for Amazon? It may not be large enough for Amazon’s outsized ambitions; few sites in the crowded city may fit the RFP’s requirements. Others have suggested fitting Amazon into the Hudson Yards mega-development, or finding space in Newark.

Washington, D.C. Ted Eytan: Flickr/Creative Commons

Washington, D.C.

Pros: The capital happens to be the home of another big Bezos investment, the Washington Post, and in addition to a solid transit system and sprawling suburbs, D.C. also offers Amazon a chance to be next door to bureaucrats and lawmakers. As the company continues to grow, it’ll likely spend much more time discussing regulatory matters. As Curbed DC’s Michelle Goldchain reports, the District has a “fighting chance.”

Cons: Would Amazon in the capitol be considered political? It would put the giant company in the federal government’s backyard, and crosshairs, and may just invite extra scrutiny.

Potential sites: The new Wharf development on the city’s southwest waterfront has been touted as a huge step forward for D.C.; adding Amazon would make it transformative. Other boosters have suggested the Capitol Riverfront site.

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Boston

Pros: It’s hard to imagine any city besting Boston for proximity to excellent universities and top talent. In addition, the city makes a great East Coast hub and boasts a decent transit system.

Cons: Expansion may be especially difficult, given that the city is already very dense and has some of the highest construction costs in the country.

Potential sites: Curbed Boston editor Tom Acitelli suggests the massive, 161-acre Suffolk Downs site, which is currently vacant.

Austin

Pros: After Amazon’s blockbuster acquisition of Whole Foods, creating a headquarter in the grocer’s hometown makes sense. The Texas capital’s tech scene competes with Silicon Valley, making the city a front-runner when it comes to retaining tech talent, and the state’s lack of an income tax offers a selling point for highly paid workforce.

Cons: The lack of an extensive mass transit system, and direct connection to a suitable large plot of land, may be a downfall for Austin’s bid.

Potential sites: While there hasn’t been much talk of where Amazon would find the room for a new headquarters, city and state leaders, including Governor Greg Abbot, have already put their weight behind the proposal.

Dallas

Pros: A rapidly-growing metroplex, lack of income tax, huge international airport, and and existing Amazon regional office and slew of distribution centers, helps make Dallas a strong contender. It’s already been a magnet for corporations lately, with Toyota recently opening a large office in Plano.

Cons: While Dallas can boast both tech and talent, it’s not as much of a marquee name as some of the other competitors.

Potential sites: The city could pitch development at the Inland Port, a southern Dallas site meant to be a large logistics hub.

Toronto

Pros: The Canadian metropolis has been named in many short-lists for its growing tech scene, a robust transit network, proximity to the East Coast, and perhaps most importantly, not being in the U.S. The country’s liberal immigration policies and inclusive culture provide a refuge from Trump era-immigration crackdowns, which may threaten access to top foreign talent.

Cons: Some have suggested that constant border-crossing may be a hinderance to the company’s operations. Even though numerous U.S. companies have foreign offices, the scale of Amazon’s ambitions may present a problem.

Potential sites: Toronto is gearing up to redevelop a large section of its waterfront, though Google has already expressed interest in being the lead tenant.

Credit: Photo by Education Images/UIG via Getty Images

Pittsburgh

Pro: The Steel Town has been the site of a recent tech resurgence, with companies like Uber and Google occupying big offices in town. The city’s strong university system, including Carnegie Mellon, helps boast Pittsburgh’s potential to bring in talent.

Cons: Transit isn’t nearly as extensive as you would find in other cities, and it’s not nearly as much of a transit hub and destination city as some of the other competitors.

Potential sites: The in-development Almono project, a massive 178-acre riverside redevelopment of a former steel mill, would present the tech giant with a massive new campus.

Photo by Kathleen Tyler Conklin via Flickr

Baltimore

Pros: Much like Philly, Baltimore boasts a core of great universities and exceptional access to East Coast transportation networks.

Cons: Not necessarily a top-tier city, Baltimore lacks extensive mass transit and may be a tough sell for the thousands of employees who would need to relocate.

Potential sites: Could the massive, under-construction Port Covington project, a $5.5 billion development spearheaded by the owner of Under Armour, make room for a quite sizable new corporate tenant.

Poll

Which city makes the best case for Amazon’s new headquarters?

This poll is closed.

  • 23%
    Chicago
    (955 votes)
  • 18%
    Atlanta
    (782 votes)
  • 7%
    Detroit
    (327 votes)
  • 6%
    Philadelphia
    (282 votes)
  • 9%
    Los Angeles
    (405 votes)
  • 2%
    New York City
    (97 votes)
  • 1%
    Washington, D.C.
    (70 votes)
  • 3%
    Boston
    (125 votes)
  • 4%
    Austin
    (189 votes)
  • 2%
    Dallas
    (108 votes)
  • 3%
    Toronto
    (160 votes)
  • 7%
    Pittsburgh
    (329 votes)
  • 1%
    Baltimore
    (54 votes)
  • 6%
    Other (Please add in the comments)
    (251 votes)
4134 votes total Vote Now