Howard County puts Columbia for­ward for Ama­zon HQ2

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Sarah Gantz

A third Mary­land mu­nic­i­pal­ity is mak­ing a bid for Ama­zon’s cov­eted sec­ond head­quar­ters, join­ing a crowded na­tional com­pe­ti­tion for a $5 bil­lion in­vest­ment and its prom­ise of 50,000 jobs.

Howard County is draft­ing a pro­posal and in­cen­tive pack­age to sell Ama­zon on the Columbia Gate­way, a 920-acre busi­ness park along In­ter­state 95 that is ripe for rede­vel­op­ment. The pro­posal will also in­clude sites in down­town Columbia, though ex­act lo­ca­tions are still be­ing ironed out.

At the same time, Howard Hughes Corp., the Dal­las-based de­vel­oper that is lead­ing a rede­vel­op­ment of down­town Columbia, plans to sub­mit its own pro­posal. Howard Hughes said it would also par­tic­i­pate in Howard County’s bid.

Since Ama­zon an­nounced plans this month to in­vest up to $5 bil­lion in a sec­ond

cam­pus, mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties large, small and in be­tween, from all over North Amer­ica, have been draft­ing pro­pos­als. Bal­ti­more City and Prince Ge­orge’s County both in­tend to bid. In what will inevitably be a crowded field, economists and mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties vy­ing for the tech­nol­ogy be­he­moth said Mary­land should of­fer up as many sites as are fea­si­ble.

“I’ll take a bet that Ama­zon will have 500 sites to choose from,” said David Ian­nucci, se­nior eco­nomic devel­op­ment ad­viser to Prince Ge­orge’s County Ex­ec­u­tive Rush­ern Baker. “If there’s a dozen from Mary­land — good.”

With so many pro­pos­als, the early stage of whit­tling down op­tions may be a lit­tle like play­ing the lot­tery, said Anir­ban Basu, an econ­o­mist and CEOof Sage Pol­icy Group in Bal­ti­more.

“Wouldn’t you want to have as many ping pong balls in that lot­tery bas­ket as pos­si­ble?” he said.

Basu said he sees no harm in mul­ti­ple pro­pos­als com­ing from Mary­land, so long as the state makes clear it will put its en­tire weight be­hind any lo­ca­tion Ama­zon chooses.

Gov. Larry Ho­gan has said he will per­son­ally lobby Ama­zon CEOJ­eff Be­zos to set up shop at Bal­ti­more’s Port Cov­ing­ton, where Un­der Ar­mour CEO Kevin Plank’s pri­vate real es­tate firm, Sag­amore Devel­op­ment, al­ready plans a mas­sive $5.5 bil­lion rede­vel­op­ment.

At the same time, Ho­gan has com­mit­ted to sup­port­ing any mu­nic­i­pal­ity that wants to bid.

"The gover­nor be­lieves Port Cov­ing­ton is a tremen­dous site, and the state will be sup­port­ing ef­forts to bring the Ama­zon HQ2to Bal­ti­more City,” Sha­reese Churchill, a spokes­woman for Ho­gan, said 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."

Bal­ti­more Mayor Cather­ine Pugh, mean­while, is ea­ger to see other ju­ris­dic­tions rally be­hind Bal­ti­more’s bid.

“When Bal­ti­more wins, the en­tire re­gion and state of Mary­land wins,” An­thony McCarthy, a spokesman for the mayor, said in a state­ment. “There is a grow­ing con­sen­sus from many lead­ers in sur­round­ing counties and the state that Bal­ti­more is the strongest com­peti­tor for this in­cred­i­ble op­por­tu­nity.”

Howard County Ex­ec­u­tive Al­lan Kit­tle­man said he would love to see Bal­ti­more or Prince Ge­orge’s County se­lected for Ama­zon’s head­quar­ters, if the com­pany passes on Howard County.

“I don’t think we’re com­pet­ing against each other as much as peo­ple think,” he said.

In a pub­lic re­quest for pro­pos­als, Ama­zon said it is seek­ing a lo­ca­tion ideally of at least 100 acres that is within or close to a metropoli­tan area of at least 1 mil­lion peo­ple. Prox­im­ity to air­ports, ma­jor road­ways, pub­lic trans­porta­tion and a vi­brant com­mu­nity where work­ers will want to live are also on Ama­zon’s wish list.

Kit­tle­man said he thinks Howard County ticks off many of those boxes.

“We’re con­sid­ered the best place to live in Amer­ica,” Kit­tle­man said. “Not only would we be able to pro­vide a strong work­force, we would be the place where em­ploy­ees who work for Ama­zon are go­ing to want to live.”

Columbia Gate­way of­fers plenty of space — prob­a­bly more than needed — for Ama­zon to spread out, he said.

Lo­cated at the in­ter­sec­tion of In­ter­state 95 and Route 175, the 920-acre Columbia Gate­way is largely com­posed of sprawl­ing of­fice build­ings and sur­face park­ing lots, though much of the area is un­de­vel­oped.

Cor­po­rate Of­fice Prop­er­ties Trust, which owns much of the prop­erty there, de­clined to com­ment.

The pro­posal also will in­clude space down­town that could be con­nected to Columbia Gate­way by a bus sys­tem. Ex­act down­town lo­ca­tions have not been de­ter­mined, but the county is con­sid­er­ing prop­erty within the Mer­ri­weather District, a 68-acre cres­cent-shaped area be­ing de­vel- oped by Howard Hughes, Kit­tle­man said.

Howard Hughes will gladly work with Howard County on its pro­posal, said John DeWolf, an ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent with the com­pany. But the com­pany also in­tends to sub­mit its own bid to turn the the prop­erty it con­trols in down­town Columbia into a mod­ern, ur­ban cam­pus for Ama­zon.

“What makes us as a com­pany unique is we like to re­fer to our­selves as the masters of com­mu­nity mas­ter plan­ning,” DeWolf said. “We un­der­stand, aside from just putting of­fices to­gether, what the en­tire sur­round­ing area should look like.”

Howard Hughes has 113 acres in Columbia, 84 of which can be built on. DeWolf said he’s con­fi­dent the com­pany could meet Ama­zon’s de­mands for of­fice space, re­tail and a lively res­i­den­tial com­mu­nity within that space.

Other Mary­land ju­ris­dic­tions in the race will pose stiff com­pe­ti­tion for Howard County be­cause they share as­sets: prox­im­ity to air­ports and high­ways, strong uni­ver­si­ties and a deep bench of tal­ented work­ers, Basu said.

Still, the county has po­ten­tial to be a con­tender.

“If the ques­tion is does Howard County have some­thing to say, is there a story they can tell Ama­zon that’s com­pelling,” Basu said, “the an­swer is yes.”

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