Baker team eyes North County sites for Amazon HQ2

New Carrolton Future RenderingLARGO – Amazon’s search for a second headquarters location is making waves across the country, and Prince George’s County is joining the flood of jurisdictions vying for the chance to land the project.

Last Tuesday, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, III and members of his economic development team announced three sites they have identified as contenders for Amazon’s “HQ2.” The megacorporation issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) Sept. 7 outlining its requirements for HQ2: location in an urban area, easy access to mass transit, either 100 acres of pad-ready land or infill sites that could accommodate 8 million square feet of office space, and a diverse workforce. Baker believes Prince George’s County checks all those boxes.

“We think that Prince George’s County has the best opportunity to do exactly what Amazon wants,” he said. “Look at our proximity to a Metro system, to highways, sandwiched in between two major airports – BWI and Reagan National – our educated workforce, which is something they’re going to look for here, the fact that we have major universities surrounding the county.”

Baker’s economic team, including the county’s Economic Development Corporation, met in a series of “war room” meetings the week prior to develop a list of sites to pitch to Amazon. They selected three: College Park Metro station and the M Square research park, with 8 million square feet available including existing buildings and open land; Greenbelt Metro station, which adds to the College Park offering for a total of 14 million square feet including the Capital Office Park site; and New Carrollton Metro station, with more than 10 million square feet available from the existing buildings surrounding Corporate Drive at the US 50 and I-495 interchange, as well as condos between Route 450 and Harkins Road that could be redeveloped.

David Iannucci, assistant deputy chief administrative officer for economic development and the lead on the HQ2 project, said the sites were chosen using Amazon’s stated requirements as a guide; the team “made our own checklist” based on the RFP.

The Greenbelt Metro station land, which is owned by Renard Development Corporation, was also offered by the county as a potential home to a new FBI headquarters. The site was among the final three contenders before the General Services Administration suddenly halted site selection earlier this year. Iannucci said the site’s inclusion in the Amazon bid does not mean the county has given up on the FBI.

“We believe it is alive. There has been repeated commentary from President (Donald) Trump and others that this project must go forward, that they must get a new headquarters,” he said. “But we decided we couldn’t rely on that and have all our eggs in one basket. And, I’m not trying to be funny, but 50,000 jobs is more than 11,000 jobs.”

He added that the county continues to work “very intensely” behind the scenes to push the FBI project forward.

“We’d love to be in a position of having to choose between Amazon and the FBI,” Iannucci said.

All three sites put forward for HQ2 are in the northern portion of the county, a fact which has not escaped the notice of residents in other areas. Bradley Heard, an attorney and activist from Capitol Heights who blogs as PGUrbanist, has his own suggestion for where HQ2 should locate: Morgan Boulevard Metro Station.

“It probably presents the best location and site conditions, arguably in the region but certainly in Prince George’s County, because you don’t really have a lot of Metro-accessible locations that have that much acreage around the site that would be relatively immediately available,” he said. “Amazon requested that the site has the zoning, has the expansion capability. That (Morgan Boulevard), frankly, is an open tableau.”

Heard said in contrast, the sites chosen by the county already have existing development on them that would have to be modified or torn down to accommodate HQ2.

Heard is concerned county leaders have a “blind spot” when it comes to central and southern parts of the county and their development needs and potential.

“I just think they have a blind spot when it comes to Central and South County. They’re ignoring really viable sites for large employers,” Heard said. “If they don’t have a vision for those areas, how do they expect private developers to? That’s the real concern from my perspective.”

Iannucci said the county did consider other sites for its bid, including Branch Avenue Metro station, the Westphalia development and National Harbor. But some of those property owners did not wish their land to be considered for HQ2, and the team determined other sites did not meet all the criteria.

“There were some other inner Beltway sites where either distance from the highway or the potential to create the kind of urban campus Amazon was looking for” wasn’t there, Iannucci said.

Other jurisdictions are also getting in on the HQ2 bid, including Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore City. The Washington-Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) is also looking to offer land it owns for consideration as part of bids by jurisdictions in the region. And Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has said he believes Port Covington in Baltimore is the best location for the headquarters, but would support any Maryland location.

“The governor believes Port Covington is a tremendous site, and the state will be supporting efforts to bring the Amazon HQ2 to Baltimore City,” said Hogan spokeswoman Amelia Chasse in a statement. “As the governor has said, he would welcome Amazon to any location within Maryland, and the state and the Department of Commerce will work hard on behalf of any jurisdiction submitting a proposal.”

Iannucci said the counties are being directed to submit the bids directly to Amazon; the state of Maryland will not be submitting any sites directly, he added.

“We are going to hire a consultant to work with our Economic Development Corporation to put together a polished, high-quality presentation” for Amazon, he said of Prince George’s County.

Baker said that incentives, on top of the land, would be offered in the proposal, but declined to specify what they would be.

“We’re going to look at incentives, but we don’t really think incentives are what’s going to decide this,” he said. “It’s too early to say exactly what the dollar figure will be that we put in there. Certainly, any time you have development, it's always the infrastructure and the transit that goes with it. This would not be unlike what we did with FBI or what we did for MGM in terms of those types of incentive.”

The FBI bid included $97 million of county investment at Greenbelt and $35 million at Landover.


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