As city leaders and developers were pouring hundreds of hours into their Port Covington pitch for Amazon’s future second North American headquarters, a neighborhood group was quietly assembling its own application for HQ2.
The Old Goucher Community Association this week submitted a bid to Amazon offering several sites in the middle of the city as candidates for the future behemoth of a corporate campus. Association president Kelly Cross said the application was a completely independent effort assembled by volunteers.
“When we looked at the core preferences that Amazon listed in the [request for proposals], our neighborhood had all of them,” he said.
Amazon closed its application process for HQ2 last night. The Seattle-based company says the corporate campus will bring 50,000 new tech jobs and $5 billion in construction investment to the chosen site.
The Old Goucher Neighborhood Association’s has offered a section between Charles Street and North Avenue as prime real estate for Amazon. It holds nearly 200 acres of real estate available for development at a far lower average cost per square foot than properties in cities like D.C., New York and Philadelphia, the group argues, and also includes state-owned properties like State Center off of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and the former Maryland State Penitentiary complexes off of I-83, both of which are ready to be re-developed.
Amazon’s criteria call for a location within 30 miles of a population center, 45 minutes of a major international airport and two miles of an interstate, and one that has pre-existing access to mass transit and nearby universities.
On a phone call, Cross checked these off the list: Baltimore city’s center is the population center; a train ride or drive to BWI both take less than 20 minutes; the area they offered has multiple light rail and Metro stops, as well as bus lines; it has an exit to I-83 on North Avenue; and it’s within walking distance of MICA, Johns Hopkins University and the University of Baltimore.
City leaders and developers earlier this week held a party of sorts at City Garage in Port Covington to celebrate the submission of their application. Gov. Hogan’s administration, which backs the Port Covington site, has promised “billions” in economic incentives for Amazon – much of that including tax breaks – if the company decides to go with the South Baltimore peninsula being built up by Plank family-backed Sagamore Development.
That project is already receiving $660 million in public financing from the City of Baltimore, funded by bonds that Sagamore says it will repay with revenue from property taxes.
Cross, however, argues Port Covington isn’t the right fit. It’s more of a risk for Amazon than the city’s center due to the fact that it lacks existing infrastructure like light rail, he said. (Sagamore has plans to build a $170 million light rail spur out to the peninsula.) It also lacks what he called “true urbanism,” which would include aspects like cultural value and diversity.
“Tech companies now are looking for really intense urbanism, not trying to flee to a quasi-suburban office park,” he said.
It’s worth noting there are plenty of inherent risks that the city faces in trying to lure Amazon to Baltimore at all, as City Paper‘s Brandon Weigel has argued: residential displacement; sky-high rental housing costs; the fact that the company’s size and consumer appeal generally hurts small retailers.
If Amazon does decide to build in Baltimore, Cross said constructing a headquarters in the middle of the city would bring more direct benefits to neighborhoods than in Port Covington: “We need to start thinking about how we’re leveraging these investments.”
Baltimore is one of more than 100 cities that have applied to be home to Amazon’s second corporate campus in North America. The company has said it will announce the winner sometime in 2018.
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