HQ2 was announced in September 2017, when Amazon submitted request for proposals to governments and economic development organizations asking for tax breaks and other incentives to entice the company. Amazon claimed that it intended to spend $5 billion on construction and that HQ2 would house 50,000 workers when completed. More than 200 cities in Canada, Mexico, and the United States eventually offered tax breaks, expedited construction approvals, promises of infrastructure improvements, new crime-reduction programs, and other incentives. On January 18, 2018, a shortlist of 20 finalists was announced, after which the candidate localities continued to detail or expand their incentive packages.
On November 13, 2018, Amazon announced that HQ2 would be split into two locations, with 25,000 workers at each: National Landing in Arlington County, Virginia, and Long Island City in Queens, New York City. Virginia would provide $573 million in tax breaks, $23 million in cash, and other incentives. New York planned to give Amazon tax breaks of at least $1.525 billion, cash grants of $325 million, and other incentives. In February 2019, Amazon cancelled the New York location after strong opposition from local grassroots organizers, residents and politicians. The project had drawn criticism in multiple cities as an example of corporate welfare.
Part of the Amazon headquarters in Seattle, under construction in 2015
Amazon was founded in 1994 in Bellevue, Washington, and moved to leased space in the SoDo neighborhood of Seattle. As the company grew, it went through a series of office moves around Downtown Seattle, until announcing a move to a purpose-built headquarters campus in the South Lake Union neighborhood, then a light industrial enclave undergoing urban renewal. As of 2017[update], Amazon occupies 8.1 million square feet (750,000 m2) of office space in 33 buildings in Seattle, employing 40,000 white collar workers.
The deadline for Phase I bids was set at October 19, 2017. A final site was planned to be selected and announced in November 2018, from a shortlist of 20 cities released in January.
As of October 23, 2017[update], 238 proposals had been submitted and received by Amazon, representing cities and regions from 54 states, provinces, districts, and territories. The only U.S. states that did not have a locality that submitted a formal proposal were Arkansas, Hawaii, Iowa, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming. The Canadian provinces of New Brunswick and Saskatchewan also had no regions submit a bid, along with the Yukon Territory.
Several cities and groups promoted their HQ2 bids by engaging in promotional campaigns and gimmicks, including offers and gifts to Amazon. Sun Corridor, a Tucson, Arizona economic development firm, sent a 21-foot saguaro cactus to Amazon in an attempt to promote the city's bid. The gift was rejected due to the company's corporate gifts policy, instead donating it to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. The city of Stonecrest, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta, voted to de-annex 345 acres (140 ha) of land for Amazon to establish its own city named Amazon around its headquarters.
Sly James, mayor of Kansas City, Missouri, purchased 1,000 products from Amazon, which he donated to charity. James wrote 5-star reviews for each one of them, in which every review mentioned positive attributes of Kansas City.Primanti Brothers, a chain of sandwich shops based in Pittsburgh, offered free sandwiches to Amazon employees if they chose the city as their second headquarters.
The city of Birmingham, Alabama erected several giant Amazon boxes and dash buttons around public areas. The dash buttons sent out pre-generated tweets to lure Amazon to the city. New York City mayorBill de Blasio announced that major landmarks in the city would be lit in orange to promote the city's campaign for HQ2.
A group from Calgary sprayed messages onto sidewalks in Seattle's South Lake Union neighborhood urging the company to choose them. During an Ottawa Senators hockey game, fans were encouraged to "make noise" for the city of Ottawa's Amazon bid.
The neighboring American and Canadian cities of Detroit, Michigan and Windsor, Ontario submitted a bid together and campaigned the two cities to be the home of the new Amazon campus. With the headquarters being divided across the Canada–United States border, the company could take advantage of tax incentives offered by both Ontario and Michigan. Amazon would also be able to capitalize on the less restrictive Canadian immigration laws and the lower currency exchange of the Canadian Dollar.
Contrary to other cities, Little Rock, Arkansas, purchased a full-page ad in The Washington Post "breaking up" with Amazon, where they described their decision to not submit a bid, while also touting the city's positive attributes. A few days after the bid deadline, the campaign flew a banner plane over Seattle with the same message.
Amazon began tours of its finalist cities in late February. Bidding cities also signed non-disclosure agreements with Amazon for the duration of the bid process. According to an Amazon spokesperson, the NDA does not cover financial incentives that cities have offered.NBC News reported in May that visits to the 20 finalists had been finished by Amazon. In an interview in September 2018, with The Economic Club of Washington, D.C., Bezos said, "We will have a decision by the end of the year."
In November 2018, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal reported that several finalists were in advanced talks with Amazon over the HQ2 decision, including the potential choosing of Crystal City in Northern Virginia. Amazon Director of Economic Development Mike Grella wrote on Twitter that the leaker responsible for informing the newspapers was violating a non-disclosure agreement. Grella also criticized media outlets for speculating on the winning bid for HQ2 based on the travel patterns of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who owns The Washington Post. On November 5, 2018, it was speculated that Amazon was finalizing plans to divide HQ2 evenly among two locations: Crystal City in Arlington, Virginia, Long Island City in Queens, New York, or Dallas, Texas. Amazon declined to comment on The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal reports.
Some of the finalists and rejected bids have used their Amazon proposals to attract investments from other multinational corporations.
Criticism and opposition
Steven Strauss, a visiting professor of public policy at Princeton University and an expert on economic development, in an editorial in USA Today suggested that metropolitan areas should be cautious about bidding too generously to win the Amazon bid. He pointed to examples where companies have gone bankrupt or failed to follow up on expansion plans. Strauss also wrote that it was possible that cities could over-pay (the so-called "winner's curse") by providing an overly generous incentive package, which would turn out to be a money-losing proposition for the municipality if all the promised jobs did not materialize.
Conservative and liberal advocacy groups voiced their opposition to various tax breaks promised by cities in hopes of luring Amazon.
Former Seattle Mayor Ed Murray announced that he would begin conversations with Amazon about long-term plans for the city, while the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce characterized the announcement as a "wake-up call" to Seattle to improve the city's business climate. Comparisons were made to Boeing's decision to move its corporate headquarters from Seattle to Chicago in 2001, which came as a surprise to Seattle.
Jim Balsillie remarked that he was disappointed in W. Edmund Clark, Kathleen Wynne's czar in charge of the Toronto bid, when in 2017 the latter attempted to sell the buyer on "our competitive advantage... software programmers that cost 34% to 38% less than in the US... that's an edge the government is determined not only to maintain but to sharpen." Balsillie found this strategy to be "misguided... these strategies put our tech workers in a global race to the bottom, competing on cost with the salaries in Poland, Ukraine, and India."
The selections of New York City and Northern Virginia for the HQ2 sites were confirmed early on November 13, 2018. Amazon made the official announcement later that day. In Amazon's announcement, a joint press release was presented by the Northern Virginia bidders that Amazon's HQ2 neighborhood location would officially be renamed "National Landing", which encompasses not only Crystal City but also the nearby areas of Pentagon City and Potomac Yard. Amazon also announced that it would employ 5,000 people at a new Operations Center of Excellence in Nashville, Tennessee.
The subsidies offered to Amazon in New York include performance-based direct incentives of $1.525 billion based on whether the company created 25,000 jobs. This included a refundable tax credit through the state's Excelsior Program of up to $1.2 billion, calculated as a percentage of the salaries Amazon expects to pay employees over the following 10 years. Additionally, the Empire State Development Corporation would give Amazon a cash grant of $325 million based on the occupancy rates of HQ2 buildings over in the following 10 years. Under an agreement with New York City's government, half of the property taxes for the city's HQ2 campus would be waived, and the exempt amount would go to the city's PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) fund to pay for infrastructure improvements in New York City. Both states proposed that Amazon be given access to a helipad, and the New York state government also promised to upgrade infrastructure in conjunction with HQ2's construction there. Officials estimated that Amazon's move would generate $27 billion in taxes over a period of 25 years.
Amazon was said to have chosen New York City as one of the sites for HQ2 because of the city's highly skilled pool of talent; existing tech, finance, and media industries; and strong university system, including Columbia University and Cornell Tech.
On February 14, 2019, Amazon announced that it would cancel the planned Long Island City location due to opposition. The company also said that it would continue developing the Crystal City and Nashville locations. Bill de Blasio and Cuomo were "blindsided" by Amazon's decision when informed by Amazon VP Jay Carney. New York governor Andrew Cuomo blamed Democrats in the New York State Senate for the cancellation, and New York City mayor de Blasio said that Amazon "threw away that opportunity," by making the announcement. In response, Ocasio-Cortez stated: "If we were willing to give away $3 billion for this deal, we could invest $3 billion in our district ourselves if we want to. We could hire more teachers, we can fix our subways, we can put a lot of people to work for that money if we wanted to." Ocasio-Cortez omitted the fact that the "$3 billion" were merely discounts on taxes of future Amazon activity, not existing cash the city possessed. Mayor de Blasio, among others, criticized her, and those who had made similar remarks, for suggesting the money, mostly in the form of tax credits, was now free to be spent elsewhere. Activist organizations such as Open New York also argued that, in Amazon's absence, the original plans to build 6,000 homes should be re-adopted.
According to an interview with CNBC, Amazon's vice president of public policy Brian Huseman denied that politics rather than logistics were a factor in Amazon choosing to cancel its New York location.
Despite cancelling the Long Island City location, in December 2019, Amazon announced that it had signed a new lease for 335,000 square feet (31,100 m2) of space in the Hudson Yards neighborhood to accommodate 1,500 employees. The company already had 3,500 tech employees in the New York City area.
In February 2019, Cuomo called the cancellation the "greatest tragedy" he'd seen during his tenure as governor of New York.
Virginia offered performance-based incentives which included a workforce cash grant of $550 million for the first 25,000 jobs Amazon created that paid an average salary of $150,000 by 2030. The state offered an additional $200 million for the next 12,850 qualifying jobs created by 2034. Arlington County offered an additional $23 million in cash grants, to be disbursed over 15 years, contingent on Amazon reaching a certain office size and the gradual increased revenue from a tax collected from the county's hotel rooms. The county also offered an estimated $28 million in infrastructure improvements tied to the property taxes of the Pentagon City and Crystal City area. The state's initial offer was close to $1 billion, according to the Virginia Economic Development Partnership. When Amazon told state officials they would get half of the jobs, the group decided to "essentially cut [the incentives] roughly in half."
Amazon's officials initially said it could occupy up to 8 million square feet of office space in Arlington over the course of 15 years. However, company officials told Arlington in May 2019 that Amazon would not promise anything over 4 million square feet.
Amazon leased 241 18th Street S., 1800 S. Bell Street and 1770 Crystal Drive (formerly 1750 Crystal Drive) from JBG Smith and renovated the buildings to serve as temporary office space.
In May 2019, Amazon started listed openings for software development engineers and software managers meant as HQ2 jobs. It moved its first employees into the office space in June 2019, and in June 2020, there were roughly 1,000 employees the company counted as HQ2 workers.
In January 2020, the company started construction on two 22-story towers at 1450 S. Eads St, known as the Metropolitan Park site because of its proximity to a public park of the same name. In September 2020, the company began the $14 million renovation of the park.
On November 4, 2021, Amazon announced that two local retailers had signed on to lease ground floor space at the Metropolitan Park Development. The retailers are independent coffee shop Rāko Coffee Roasters and District Dogs, a pet care company. Both retailers are currently slated to open in mid-2023. Rāko Coffee will occupy over 1700 square feet along 14th Street S. and a kiosk in the Metropolitan Park office lobby area. District Dogs will have a 6,000 square foot space along S. Eads St.
Amazon has indicated its intentions to turn the National Landing district into an 18-hour district that the company hopes will be a shopping and entertainment destination. The company has shared its intention to prioritize leasing space to small, local businesses with a focus on women- and minority-owned retailers.
Phase 2: The Helix
On February 2, 2021, the company announced a proposed design for the second phase of HQ2, PenPlace, which included "The Helix", a 354-foot glass nucleic acid double helix structure with landscaped terrain that would be opened to the public, comparing it to "Amazon Spheres" at Amazon HQ1. It would not be an office building, but a space for employees in the surrounding Amazon complex to unwind, relax or meet informally with colleagues. Founder Jeff Bezos commented that "The natural beauty of a double helix can be seen throughout our world, from the geometry of our own DNA to the elemental form of galaxies, weather patterns, pine cones, and seashells".The Verge described it as resembling a "glass poop emoji covered in trees."
In May 2021, engineers with the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority noted that "the proposed height of The Helix building exceeded the FAA’s maximum allowed height for flight procedures at Reagan Washington National Airport by 13 feet, which was reported to the FAA and Arlington County, as is required by regulation." A commercial pilot who also serves as the spokesperson for Allied Pilots Association, the union that represents American Airlines' 15,000 pilots, said "anything that might further complicate that careful landing process at Reagan National Airport must be taken seriously." As of June 2021, the FAA is evaluating the proposed building. Arlington County cannot issue building permits for "The Helix" unless Amazon receives a "Determination of No Hazard to Air Navigation" from the FAA.
On November 26, 2021, the FAA completed its evaluation of the proposed building and determined that the structure would not be a hazard to air traffic.