Which neighborhood should Amazon choose for its second headquarters?
Fresh off completing their takeover of Whole Foods and tightening their hold on local shopping options, Amazon dropped a bombshell by announcing that they plan to open a second headquarters to rival the one they currently have in Seattle. Furthermore, they’ve opened up the process to publicly request that cities around North America offer proposals that explain why the tech and retail giant should make roots there.
There’s a lot at stake for interested cities. Amazon says it will spend upwards of $5 billion to create their new headquarters and bring as many as 50,000 new jobs to the city, many of which will offer six-figure salaries. It’s the kind of influx that could single handedly remake a city and keep a mayor in office.
Of course, not every city is going to be able to offer Amazon what they need in order to consider it a new home. The company laid out a set of guiding principles that explain what a city needs to be able to provide in order to be considered. Their strongest requirements are that it includes a metropolitan area with a population over one million, offer a business-friendly environment, provide locations with the potential to attract and retain strong technical talent, and “communities that think big and creatively when considering locations and real estate options.” They also threw out a few “strongly preferred” considerations, including proximity to an international airport, close proximity to major highways, availability of an urban or downtown campus setting, and a “development-prepped site,” which basically means they want to be able to start building ASAP and they don’t want to see any red tape.
There are 39 cities that meet most of the criteria in North America. When you whittle things down to the United States, it's closer to 25, and even that might be generous given what Amazon wants to undertake.
While some think this whole process is a red herring and a company like Amazon probably already knows where they want to drop anchor, let’s assume that cities still have a shot to garner its attention and become their new home. Here are the cities we think are top picks and the neighborhoods within them that could very well be the home to Amazon’s HQ2.
To some, Chicago is a logical choice. It gives Amazon a centralized hub from which to reach the rest of the continent. The company already has tons of warehouses in Illinois and eight more are coming (along with 8,000 employees). According to Crain’s, Chicago is already wooing the company which doesn’t surprise anyone. The big problem for the city is Illinois’ subpar tech-friendly targeted tax credits, which fall short of what many other states offer. The Windy City could offset that by showcasing its top-notch transit hubs, strong infrastructure, and large development sites located in or close to urban areas. As Curbed Chicago pointed out, there are multiple sites that could be great homes for HQ2, including the 30-acre Freedom Center in River North, a 62-acre site between the South Loop and Chinatown, and the 28-acre former Finkl Steel site on the edge of Wicker Park and Bucktown.
A spokesperson with the mayor’s office has confirmed that Los Angeles plans to bid for the campus as well. It’s hard to make a case as to why Amazon would want two headquarters on the West Coast; but then again, perhaps the close proximity would make it easy for the company to coordinate. The problem for LA is that it lacks the kind of urban campus opportunities other cities can provide and it’s so expensive already. Downtown LA could make a run but it would likely require the city to move a lot of housing and development elsewhere, which it’s already doing for the Olympics. Other areas bandied about include Torrance and Culver City, the latter of which makes sense given that it’s set to be the new home of Amazon Studios.
An alternative for the region would be for Amazon to consider Orange County where Irvine plans to make its own pitch. The 93,000-acre Irvine Ranch currently has 57,000 acres set aside as open space, but the city could certainly redistrict that if Amazon wanted to swoop in. Anaheim could be a consideration as well, but would Jeff Bezos want to share the local spotlight with Disney?
Austin, Texas makes sense for a couple reasons. Like Chicago, it’s a centralized spot in the country and North America, which has to be a consideration for logistics. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos already has a soft spot for the city, as his family once had a ranch here and his Blue Origin space venture currently has facilities in town (not to mention Whole Foods calls Austin home). The proximity to the University of Texas (and other schools) makes it a great talent pool, and that’s before you mention that the region already has a strong tech base. GeekWire points out that Texas, like Washington, does not have an income tax, a desirable trait assuming Amazon wants to shuffle talent between the two headquarters and avoid that headache. If “quality of life” is a real consideration, then Amazon needs to consider Austin as well.
Northwest Austin has been thrown out as a logical landing spot for HQ2. Specifically, the Robinson Ranch area, which has around 348 million square feet of undeveloped land. It’s also very close to Apple’s campus, which could help foster a strong tech sector to rival the rest of the country.
The nation’s capital offers all the urban and infrastructure needs that Amazon wants, as well as some pretty strong tax breaks for tech companies. Bezos also owns The Washington Post, so perhaps there’s a chance for some synergy there. The mayor agrees and is currently reviewing the request to see how the city will respond.
Does DC have the space for a sprawling campus like this? Maybe, according to the Washington Business Journal. The former Walter Reed campus in Brightwood is big enough at 110 acres, but 70 of those have already been reserved for parkland or have been identified as contaminated. There’s also the Capitol Riverfront site near Nationals Park in Navy Yard, but that would require the current developers to scrap their long-gestating plans and set aside 500,000 square feet for Amazon's immediate needs, and set aside a lot of expensive real estate for potential growth. That’s a big ask from owners. Of course, if D.C. doesn’t have the room, the state of Maryland has also said it’s interested.
You had to figure Dallas was going to be in the mix. So many companies find what they’re looking for when they look to Dallas-Fort Worth for headquarters or new operations. The region checks almost all the boxes for Amazon and can offer the tech company multiple options depending on whether or not it wants that urban campus or is willing to create something more sprawling between the metroplex. Amazon is very invested in Texas in general, from their wind farm in Scurry County to their various connections in Austin, and fulfillment centers in Dallas, Haslet, Coppell, Katy, Houston, and elsewhere. There are even niche bonuses such as the University of North Texas in Denton offering the nation’s only digital retailing degree.
As for where Amazon could set up shop, the Dallas Regional Chamber is said to be working with various North Texas cities to figure out some possibilities. Still, Dallas Midtown is offered up as the logical choice given their demands. Amazon recently doubled their offices in the Galleria Towers and there are multiple Midtown developments in the works who would love to have Amazon as an anchor tenant. There’s also the former Parkland Hospital campus in Oak Lawn that’s looking to redevelop over 38 acres for the future. And if Dallas doesn’t work out, Fort Worth is more than happy to prove to Amazon why it makes more sense and can make the tech company the focus of their urban efforts.
Boston probably doesn’t spring to mind for a lot of people when it comes to technology hubs, but the New England city probably should. They’ve been fostering a strong tech talent base for years, even if most of the big players are elsewhere. That’s an opportunity, then, for Amazon to be the No. 1 tech company in town while also establishing an East Coast hub for easy access to Europe. Boston meets pretty much all the other criteria they’ve laid out as well.
Finding space for Amazon could be daunting. While Downtown Boston and Kendall Square could offer good places to start, they’ll run out of room to expand quickly. The 42-acre NorthPoint development in Cambridge has been thrown out for consideration. Widett Circle in South Boston would have space but redevelopment might not be able to happen in time to meet Amazon’s schedule.
With a headquarters already in the Pacific Northwest, wouldn’t it make sense for Amazon to have another one in the Southeast? Atlanta checks a lot of boxes for the company, including strong transit, talent pool, and airport access. The city also has a lot of recent practice, having convinced Mercedes-Benz, Anthem, and GE Digital, among others, to set up shop there. Amazon just decided to set up a logistics hub to go with all its warehouses already there, which could bode well.
Looking around, Amazon could consider taking up the bulk of space in The Gulch if plans for downtown redevelopment provide enough space. The company could also have an easier time finding sizable sites in Sandy Springs or other surrounding suburbs if they decide to spread out.
The New York Times did its own breakdown of criteria and determined that Denver is the only city that really makes sense for Amazon’s HQ2. It not only has so many of the desired attributes but is the rare major city that still has affordable housing and a distinct lifestyle that would be appealing to employees who transfer or move to work for the company.
Amazon is currently constructing a fulfillment center in Aurora and robotics facility in Thornton, so they’re already invested in the region. Keeping things close to both on the fringes of Denver’s Northeast neighborhoods could make a lot of sense, although that would take them away from the urban epicenter they seem very intent on creating.