The application window for Amazon’s second headquarters location has already closed, but the fervor surrounding the bidding war hasn’t died down yet. The promise of thousands of new jobs and billions in municipal investments has made Amazon’s future plans a prime debate topic this election season.
In Boston, incumbent Mayor Marty Walsh is widely favored to win a second term over challenger city councilman Tito Jackson. But Jackson is trying to even things up by using Walsh’s proposal to bring Amazon’s second headquarters—and some other big corporate entities—to Boston against him. This is a fraught issue in Boston, where longtime locals are tired of competing with highly-paid tech workers for apartments, parking spaces, and services.
By some accounts—but none from Amazon itself—Boston is a front runner for the HQ2 prize.
“Mayor Walsh has expedited the Olympics, has expedited the Grand Prix, has expedited GE. You know what? We’re tired of corporations being put forward and fast tracked while our young people are playing second fiddle,” Jackson said during Tuesday night’s mayoral debate.
Walsh did initially support a plan to host the 2024 summer Olympics before rejecting it. And Walsh did back a bid to bring an IndyCar race to South Boston before other backers nixed it. Walsh had more success getting General Electric (GE) to move its headquarters with 800 jobs to Boston from Connecticut last year. To get that deal, the city agreed to provide $25 million in property tax abatements over 20 years. Walsh and proponents say Boston will more than recoup any tax breaks in increased business from GE and its ecosystem.
Jackson’s point is that those taxes are needed to improve schools and services for Boston’s underserved communities.
Walsh maintained that city’s Amazon bid contained no giveaways. Unlike some other towns, he noted pointedly, Boston did not promise any incentives up front. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, on the other hand, backed Newark’s proposal, which included $7 billion in incentives.
Amazon (AMZN) started soliciting bids in September. At that time, the Seattle-based retail, technology, and media giant said it would invest up to $5 billion in the new site, which will employ up to 50,000 high-salaried people over time. Proposals were due October 19.
Some see HQ2 as the brass ring: What city doesn’t want more good jobs for its citizens? Others think the unlucky “winner” would see rents spike, further exacerbation of the rich-poor divide, and increased stress on public services including schools, roads, and mass transit.
Meanwhile, back at Amazon’s home base in the Pacific Northwest, the company’s decision to put a massive facility somewhere else is a bitter pill to some. Seattle, like Boston, is dealing with gentrification and soaring housing costs.
During its own mayoral debate—also Tuesday night—former U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan described the Amazon map showing 238 cities and regions vying to be HQ2. “Part of it breaks my heart,” she said, according to tech news site Geekwire. “We’ve got these challenges, there’s no question Seattle has grown too fast.” But Seattle should not roll up the welcome mat, she added.
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Her opponent, urban planner Cary Moon, said Seattle has not kept track with growth, and she warned future HQ2 cities not to repeat its mistake.
“We have not planned in advance for all the growth that Amazon brought,” Moon said. “So we need some time to catch up, so I would advise other cities to plan the growth in advance, understand what it’s going to cost, and make sure Amazon is going to help pay for it, because I’m not sure we did that well enough here.”
Election Day in the U.S. this fall is Tuesday, November 7.