"Memo to the genius leaking info about Crystal City, VA as the #1 HQ2 selection. You're not doing Crystal City any favors. And stop treating the NDA (non-disclosure agreement), you signed like a used napkin." Tweet by Mike Grella, Amazon Director of Economic Development/Public Policy on November 3, 2018.
In real estate, and the quasi-science of economic development, there are only a handful of key imperatives. The most significant of those, from many angles and levels are simply, location, location and location. After that, dependent largely on the particulars of the project being sited, comes CEO preference and the incentive packages.
Amazon’s current headquarters is in Seattle, WA, and the winning region for HQ2 is expected to receive 50,000 new jobs, with an average compensation of $100,000. The company plans to invest more than $5-billion, either in building out a new campus, or occupying millions of square feet of existing office space.
Just which of the top 20 finalist cities are still in the running has remained a well-guarded secret, until word of advanced site negotiations with Crystal City, Arlington County and the Commonwealth of Virginia were recently leaked to The Washington Post. It is also worth noting that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos owns the Post, and if he wanted to keep a lid on the story, for negotiating leverage among many other reasons, the story likely would not have run at this point in time.
This Amazon project would be the equivalent of dropping a city/economic engine the size of the University of Georgia campus on the winning city/county or state. Our state capital, Atlanta, has remained in the running with two sites, each with its own strengths, the long under-developed railroad Gulch, south of Five Points in downtown Atlanta, currently a 40-acre mish-mash of railroad tracks, parking lots and under-utilized older buildings. Another developer is currently eyeing the Gulch, and an incentive package of property tax abatements and public infrastructure investment may result in another $1-2 billion dollar development, as well as closing the deal on the relocation of the headquarters of Norfolk-Southern Railroad from Virginia to Atlanta (850 jobs).
The other site, which I think might be a stronger match for Amazon's site criteria, is The Assembly, the former GM Doraville Plant site, closer to 130+ acres, adjacent to downtown Doraville, with an existing MARTA station, and both passenger and freight rail line access onsite. The Assembly is coming out of the ground quickly, but as yet has no dominant or signature tenant.
Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon and owner of the Post, is reportedly not directly involved in the decision or short list. That said, it is hard to believe that even the world's richest man would not express his preferences before spending $5 billion.
The D.C. market is no longer a regional backwater combination of 'northern hospitality and southern efficiency' as coined by J.F.K. Metropolitan Washington extends well into northern Virginia and suburban Maryland. And among these two 'border states,' Virginia has the better tax and regulatory climates, two major airports (Dulles and Reagan National) and the Metro Rail System, though troubled currently, remains among our nation's most expansive and built out transit systems.
Though the region is healthy and job wealthy, federal government employment is dominant as are buildings owned or leased by the Airport Authority, Arlington National Cemetery, the Pentagon or federal government. The bulk of those properties and assets generate little to no property taxes and though their purchasing power is vast, state, federal and regional government agencies also do not pay sales or hotel/motel taxes.
Both Maryland and Virginia would strongly benefit from greater private sector employment, as well as denser developments as the District of Columbia heavily regulates building heights to not spoil site lines or views of our Capitol and the Washington Monument. Bezos is a decided and vocal Democrat, and although his employees might not vote in lock-step, they would likely bring a large Blue block of voters to north Virginia politics and Presidential elections.
The earlier stated timeline on the decision by Amazon calls for selection by the end of 2018, and an announcement at some point in the first quarter of 2019. So as Black Friday and Monday approach at month's end, and Amazon's busiest day of the shopping year gets underway, remember that the company is also on its own shopping spree with the REAL Amazon Prime about to take root, at a cost of much more than $99 per year. Happy shopping.