Ama­zon leans to­ward Vir­ginia for sec­ond HQ

The Tribune (SLO) (Sunday) - - Nation & World - BY JONATHAN O’CON­NELL AND ROBERT MCCART­NEY

Ama­zon has held ad­vanced dis­cus­sions about the pos­si­bil­ity of open­ing its highly sought-af­ter sec­ond head­quar­ters in the Crys­tal City area of Ar­ling­ton, Vir­ginia, in­clud­ing how quickly it would move em­ploy­ees there, which build­ings it would oc­cupy and how an an­nounce­ment about the move would be made to the pub­lic, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple close to the process.

The dis­cus­sions were more de­tailed than those the com­pany has had re­gard­ing other lo­ca­tions in north­ern Vir­ginia and some other cities na­tion­ally, adding to spec­u­la­tion that the site in Ar­ling­ton County is a front-run­ner to land the on­line re­tail gi­ant’s sec­ond North Amer­i­can head­quar­ters and its 50,000 jobs.

The com­pany is so close to mak­ing its choice that Crys­tal City’s top real es­tate de­vel­oper, JBG Smith, has pulled some of its build­ings off the leas­ing mar­ket and of­fi­cials in the area have dis­cussed how to make an an­nounce­ment to the pub­lic this month, fol­low­ing the midterm elec­tions, ac­cord­ing to pub­lic and pri­vate-sec­tor of­fi­cials who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause Ama­zon has asked that the selec­tion process re­main con­fi­den­tial. The com­pany may be hav­ing sim­i­lar dis­cus­sions with other fi­nal­ists.

Two peo­ple close to the process said that if Crys­tal City was se­lected, Ama­zon was likely to move an ini­tial group of sev­eral hun­dred em­ploy­ees into 1851 S. Bell Street or 1770 Crys­tal Drive, two dated of­fice build­ings that have been tar­geted for re­de­vel­op­ment but could be read­ied for oc­cu­pancy by their owner, JBG Smith, in nine months or less. The bid also in­cludes sites in Po­tomac Yard, in Alexan­dria.

“There’s a lot of ac­tiv­ity,” one in­di­vid­ual close to the process said. The per­son added that peo­ple “seem re­ally pos­i­tive, and they seem pretty con­fi­dent. … What we don’t know, maybe there are two or three other sites, and they’re do­ing the same thing. That’s what’s scary to peo­ple around here.”

At a con­fer­ence in New York on Thurs­day, Ama­zon founder Jeff Be­zos told the crowd: “Ul­ti­mately the de­ci­sion will be made with in­tu­ition af­ter gather­ing and study­ing a lot of data – for a de­ci­sion like that, as far as I know, the best way to make it is you col­lect as much data as you can, you im­merse your­self in that data but then you make the de­ci­sion with your heart.” (Be­zos also owns The Wash­ing­ton Post)

Spokes­men for Ama­zon and JBG Smith de­clined to com­ment, as did Ar­ling­ton County Board ChairKatie Cris­tol.

Alexan­dria Mayor Al­li­son Sil­ber­berg de­clined to dis­cuss whether ad­vanced talks were tak­ing place but said, “We think we’ve put for­ward a very com­pet­i­tive op­tion, and we’re cer­tainly hon­ored to be con­sid­ered.”

Ama­’s eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment di­rec­tor wasn’t happy about the Wash­ing­ton Post re­port. In a Twit­ter post Satur­day morn­ing, Mike Grella ad­dressed “the ge­nius leak­ing info.”

“You’re not do­ing Crys­tal City, VA any fa­vors,” he wrote. “And stop treat­ing the NDA (nondis­clo­sure agree­ment) you signed like a used nap­kin.” Grella didn’t say who he thought leaked the in­for­ma­tion, nor did he ad­dress the story it­self.

Vir­ginia Gov. Ralph Northam, asked on WTOP Ra­dio on Wed­nes­day about spec­u­la­tion that Crys­tal City was the fron­trun­ner said, “A lot of us are anx­iously await­ing a de­ci­sion, an an­nounce­ment from Ama­zon. … A lot of [Vir­ginia gov­ern­ment] re­sources are be­ing ex­pended right now, and I think for good rea­son.”

A spokesman for Northam de­clined to com­ment fur­ther on Fri­day.

Af­ter launch­ing a re­al­ity show-like sweep­stakes for a sec­ond home in late 2017, Ama­zon has ef­fec­tively shut down dis­clo­sures about the search in the past nine months. Twenty fi­nal­ist cities – many of which have spent con­sid­er­able time and money pur­su­ing the com­pany – have lit­tle in­for­ma­tion about where they stand, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cials in four fi­nal­ist ju­ris­dic­tions.

But stock mar­ket in­vestors, on­line bet­ting sites and cor­po­rate re­lo­ca­tion ex­perts have all de­clared north­ern Vir­ginia the fa­vorite to land the so-called HQ2.

Wash­ing­ton-area lead­ers be­lieve the project is theirs to lose, and that Vir­ginia, Mary­land and the District of Columbia would all ben­e­fit eco­nom­i­cally.

Sharon Bulova, chair of the board of su­per­vi­sors in Fair­fax County, Vir­ginia, where one of the sites is lo­cated, has felt the vibe.

“What I pick up from res­i­dents is en­thu­si­asm,” she said. “They’re ex­cited about the jobs that Ama­zon would bring.”

The ul­ti­mate de­ci­sion is likely to rest with Be­zos. He has a his­tory of show­ing in­de­pen­dence in such mat­ters, such as when he needed a head­quar­ters for The Wash­ing­ton Post shortly af­ter he pur­chased it.

The pre­ferred choice among Post ex­ec­u­tives and con­sul­tants was a planned of­fice build­ing near Union Sta­tion, which they touted to Be­zos dur­ing a tour of po­ten­tial lo­ca­tions. That site was the fa­vorite – un­til Be­zos weighed in, and chose a down­town build­ing.

Now that Be­zos is near­ing a de­ci­sion on the far more con­se­quen­tial HQ2 search, Wash­ing­ton area lead­ers are hop­ing he does not throw a curve­ball.

ASTRID RIECKEN For The Wash­ing­ton Post

The Crys­tal City Metro sta­tion in Ar­ling­ton, Vir­ginia, is in an area that many real es­tate ob­servers be­lieve to be the lead­ing can­di­date for Ama­zon’s much-an­tic­i­pated sec­ond head­quar­ters.

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