Virginia Gears up for Amazon HQ2 Pitch

Fort Monroe — hands down, the coolest location proposed for Amazon HQ2. No one else, not even Google or Apple, has an headquarters on their own private, friggin’ island! Good luck getting 50,000 people in and out, though.

The Amazon gold rush is heating up. Northern Virginia, Richmond and Hampton Roads are pitching the online retailing giant on multiple site in their regions for Amazon HQ2, a $5 billion, 50,000-employee second headquarters complex. Michael Martz with the Richmond Times-Dispatch has the scoop, citing “multiple” unidentified sources.

Northern Virginia, writes Martz, has identified four potential sites, including the state-owned Center of Innovative Technology property near Washington Dulles International Airport, the Potomac Yard along the Potomac River in Alexandria, and Arlington County properties in Rosslyn and Crystal City.

Hampton Roads is pushing three potential sites: Town Center in Virginia Beach, Harbour View in Suffolk, and Fort Monroe in Hampton.

The Richmond region is pitching three sites as well: Tree Hill Farm, a 500-acre property south of downtown, the Diamond baseball stadium and neighboring properties, and a 160-acre property in Chesterfield County.

The odds are long. Virginia’s metros are competing with dozens of cities/regions around the country. Of the three Virginia metros, Northern Virginia comes closest to matching the criteria established by Amazon, including one of the largest (though financially troubled) mass transit systems in the country and access to three international airports. The Washington region also has a massive, technologically literate labor pool. As an added bonus, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos already has a mansion in Washington, D.C., owns the Washington Post, and would enjoy access to U.S. government leaders.

However, one informed economic-development source that I talked to recently reminded me that Amazon has encouraged Richmond and Hampton Roads to submit proposals. A major advantage of either metro, the source said, was massively lower costs than Northern Virginia — and Amazon is highly sensitive to costs. However, any number of other cities and regions around the country could claim to offer lower costs. It doesn’t strike me as much of a differentiating factor.

Speaking with another well-informed economic-development source, I raised the objection that metros the size of Richmond or Hampton Roads would have a difficult time building the infrastructure and otherwise adapting to such a massive growth stimulus, especially if Amazon demands significant subsidies or tax exemptions. This source was confident, however, that the 15-year time frame for the project would allow plenty of time. I’m not so sure. I expect Amazon wants to see assets on the ground now, not promises that something will get done. Given Virginia’s track record with big infrastructure projects, I wouldn’t bank on any promise.

But my sources know a lot more than I do, and if they think Virginia has a genuine shot at bagging Amazon, well, I say go for it. Who knows, maybe they have something up their proverbial sleeve they’re not willing to talk about.

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7 responses to “Virginia Gears up for Amazon HQ2 Pitch

  1. The Potomac Yards site is the only place in Virginia (on that list) that makes sense to me. Straddling Arlington and Alexandria it’s Virginia’s only real city. You can also get people in and out by ferry. While that may sound strange in Virginia it would make perfect sense to someone from Seattle.

  2. I have no insight to what Amazon wants, really, but I agree that there are places in VA that will be in contention. I think they will be in NOVA, close to DC, a functional (if strained) regional mass transit network and three good airports (don’t forget BWI.) I have to worry that transportation issues will be the Achilles heel for Hampton Roads and both Richmond and Hampton Roads need to present a united regional front. Just getting them to try that will be worth the exercise. As to some of the other issues, I go back to my first comment on this a while back – the appearance of Amazon on the Virginia political scene with the prospect of that kind of economic impact creates a brand new 800-pound gorilla. It will be hard to say no to other things requested.

  3. DJR needs to get around a bit more if he thinks Potomac Yards area is Virginia’s only real city. And what a traffic hell hole that entire Pentagon City is.

    • John Harvie needs to understand population counts and densities if he thinks there are real cities outside of Arlington / Alexandria. Real cities are densely populated and have a substantial number of people. Minimum population density of 6,000 per sq mi. Minimum population of 250,000. Amazon put their new HQ1 in the city of Seattle. Since they could have located anywhere I have to assume they like downtown Seattle. So, why wouldn’t they look for somewhere with a similar feel for HQ2? Seattle – Population of 600,000. Density of 8,400 per sq mi. Richmond’s population density is less than 1/2 that. Norfolk is under 5,000 per sq mi. Arlington is 8,800 and Alexandria is over 10,000 per sq mi. The only place in Virginia that’s even remotely like Seattle is Arlington / Alexandria.

  4. re: ” need to present a united regional front.”

    more than a couple of comments along these lines… unfortunately in Virginia – we actually work against regional approaches and that ultimately does harm us…

    re: traffic hell holes…

    yup… and no… a freaking ferry is not an answer!

    the thing about METRO is – that you can do the half-glass empty.. i.e. “METRO is a financial black hole with incompetent leadership so let’s starve it to death”… approach.. or you can see it as a valuable asset that needs to be supported adequately financially … and work to fix the administration and leadership problems.

    We have seen major reforms to VDOT over the years.. more could be done perhaps, but looking back.. we’ve come a long way.

    IF we treated VDOT the way some want to treat METRO – VDOT would have never been reformed and improved and would have ended up the tar baby that METRO has been become.

    There is no middle ground. Either you see METRO Transit as a valuable asset to the region and work to make it better .. or you kick it until it is a pile of poop… those in the middle .. undecided what to do – basically empower the ” tear down and destroy” boo-birds.

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