Last week, Amazon announced that it wants to build a second headquarters, and all bets are off for where they'll build it. Will the online tech company, who recently purchased a national grocery store chain and whose CEO owns a major newspaper, consider moving to the DC area? Do we even want it?
Amazon has asked cities to submit proposals for what it dubs HQ2, and they have a long list of demands. it wants to locate in a metropolitan area of more than one million people where it can hire 50,000 employees. It wants a "stable and business-friendly environment," and a community that can "think big and creatively when considering locations and real estate options."
The headquarters itself will be an "urban or downtown campus" similar to Amazon's Seattle headquarters, in an urban or suburban location "with the potential to attract and retain strong technical talent." HQ2 would be within 30 miles of a major population center, 45 minutes to an international airport, one or two miles from a major highway, and most significantly, have direct access to transit (presumably rail).
But here's the catch: Amazon wants a "greenfield site" of 100 acres to build their new headquarters, with utilities already in place, and at least one 500,000 square foot building with room to expand to 8 million square feet. (To put that into context, the Pentagon is 6.6 million square feet.) It would be hard for any city to scrape together that much land and meet all of the other requirements.
With all that in mind, everybody wants to figure out where Amazon will go. Bloomberg News' Conor Sen thinks that Amazon will seriously consider just six North American cities: DC, Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Denver, and Toronto. Axios suggests five cities: Denver, Chicago, Phoenix, Minneapolis, and Detroit. And the New York Times says it has to be Denver, though DC and Boston are likely too.
Our contributors puzzled over where Amazon could go in the DC area, as it could have a huge impact on that community's fortunes. “It's like a corporate version of Willy Wonka's golden tickets," said Canaan Merchant.
A District location would be hard
"Reminds me a lot of the Marriott location search, except of course the scale of this is even greater," says Tracy Loh. "I see a lot of "lessons learned" from their Seattle campus in this - [especially] regarding the transportation piece, but also in the repeated assertion that they want a "business friendly" jurisdiction and they want a ready-to-build area. They are not looking to rezone or build their own transit line the way Vulcan did in South Lake Union."
Tracy added, "DC area is a strong contender, not just because we fit the criteria for multiple sites, but [because] Jeff Bezos just bought a huge house in Dupont Circle."
Many contributors felt that Amazon probably wouldn't move to the District itself, given the need for so much empty land. “Unfortunately I don't think DC itself has the space unless they really, really, wanted to accelerate plans in a place like Poplar Point," said Canaan.
Dan Malouff disagreed, saying, "Poplar Point basically fits their criteria though, so why not? So does the DC General redevelopment site, and maybe Walter Reed, Saint Elizabeths, or even somewhere like Brentwood. The District is constrained but it's not impossible."
Could Amazon come to Maryland or Virginia?
Where can you find 100 acres next to a Metro station? I said Amazon might find a home outside the District, in one of our region's suburban downtowns. "I think [Amazon would] be open to a place like White Flint in Maryland, especially considering the amount of space and land they need, access to transit and airports, nearby major universities (I think UMD could play a big role in this)."
"It’s already set up for a big high density development, streets are laid out, transit is in place, and neighbors are already anticipating a lot of development, avoiding a potential battle there. Just look at how much flack Marriott is getting for moving into downtown Bethesda, now imagine that times 20.”
Ned Russell thinks Tysons Corner would be a serious option. “I think Amazon HQ2 would be ideal for one of the new Metro stations in Tysons," he said. "They could essentially build as high/dense as they want, while taking advantage of the billions invested in the rail line and helping to realise Fairfax County's vision for a walkable Tysons."
"In addition, Amazon wants access to a major international airport, Dulles would only be a few minutes down the toll road or a short Metro ride from a Tysons HQ2," Ned adds. "To the housing concerns, there's a lot of developable land in Tysons and density could - and I think would - be increased on these sites if developers see a major employer like Amazon promising to bring up to 50,000 new jobs to the area. I think an Amazon HQ2 in Tysons could really accelerate the urbanisation of the area that we all hope happens soon.”
Joanne Tang agrees. "I agree that Northern VA is the real contender when we talk about DC, and Tysons would be an ideal location, along with Dulles. Amazon just opened a web services home office in Dulles."
David Alpert suggested that there’s a real cost to dropping 50,000 new workers on the west side of the region, where job centers like White Flint and Tysons are located. “The farther out of the center of the region a potential HQ goes, especially the farther west it goes, the worse for transportation and sprawl," he said. "Yes, even Dulles will have a train, but that train will mostly just go one direction, and a lot of people would be driving from the west. And it would exacerbate the east-west divide. (Unfortunately, any location in Virginia would, but outside the Beltway more so)."
Could Amazon revitalize Baltimore or Prince George's County?
Joe Fox suggests we look beyond the immediate DC area and consider Baltimore. "If we're talking regionally here, what about Baltimore? There are a ton of positives there, space, urban, still a good airport (BWI), and might help push some MARC, Maglev, Red Line, you name it, improvements..."
But Ned, our resident airport expert, noted Amazon's desires for access to an international airport. “Baltimore - despite the redevelopment potential that I would love to see - is also out due to its distance from a major international airport. BWI's only long-hauls are to Frankfurt, London and Iceland."
David wonders if that would be a major issue. “And I really like Baltimore. We should care about wanting this nearby city to thrive," he said. "The airport might not have a lot of international, but Amazon's being there could trigger it; meanwhile, it is I believe Southwest's #2 airport in terms of # of flights. It could pull from the area labor market but we pull from theirs now, and this could encourage efforts to connect the two with high-speed transit. (Doesn't have to be maglev, just regular fast trains would be great.)”
Bradley Heard argued that Prince George's County has everything Amazon is looking for, and could use the investment. "Why go to Baltimore when you have Prince George's County?!" he said. "There are few places in the Washington region with that kind of acreage around a Metro station. The Blue Line corridor around Central Avenue--in particular Morgan Boulevard Station--would be an ideal location. I've previously advocated that site for the regional hospital and the FBI, but Amazon would work too!
Do we even want Amazon?
Amazon's presence in Seattle has rubbed many residents the wrong way. They blame the company for gentrifying the city, creating traffic, and pushing up house prices. Some have even invented a nasty nickname for Amazon employees: "Amholes."
Andrew Dupuy isn't excited about DC landing HQ2. “I'm really hoping Amazon doesn't go into my beloved former hometown of Austin, and I'm not particularly keen on it going here," he said. "Anecdotally, Seattleites (sp?) seem to think it's had a big role in the housing crunch and yuppification of Seattle."
He also notes that Amazon's labor practices aren't great. "Moreover, we know that their warehouse workers are flex-scheduled and not organized, but the culture of Amazon also treats its white-collar workers terribly. It's a bad company that engages in ruthless monopolistic practices, and it's one that I try to avoid buying from (yeah, I cheat sometimes, and I do subscribe to Bezos's Post). That's not the kind of employment and values I want in wherever I live, and particularly in a region that has a pretty good economy already. “
"Amazon has to go somewhere though," said Dan Malouff, who added, "I think it would be great if Amazon went to a Detroit or a Cleveland, where it could really add a lot of vitality. But wherever it goes, it's up to that city to legalize enough housing via its zoning. It isn't Amazon's fault that Seattle and DC prioritize single-family zoning over providing enough supply."
What do you think? Should Amazon open their second headquarters in DC? If so, where should it go?