Walsh unveils bid for Amazon HQ
Rox parcels among proposed sites; pitch puts tax incentives on the table
Mayor Martin Walsh unveiled to the public the pitch he hopes will lure online retail giant Amazon to place its second headquarters in the city.
“We are excited to present the best of Boston to Amazon,” Walsh said in a statement. “Boston is a thriving city and we invite Amazon to grow with us.”
Walsh’s office kept the bid details secret until after it was submitted, saying this denied advantage to competing municipalities. While this meant there were no public weigh-ins on the sites offered up for Amazon’s consideration, his office says any Amazon development necessarily will have to involve local permitting and community processes.
Walsh’s pitch extols the city’s universities and educated workforce as well as its diverse population, current economic growth, business culture and transportation network. It outlines possible supports such as a task force dedicated to helping Amazon navigate city permitting, develop a workforce pipeline and coordinate relations with community organization, schools and other organizations or firms.
Critics, including mayoral challenger City Councilor Tito Jackson, complained that Walsh’s offer to General Electric delved too richly into public resources by offering hefty tax breaks. This time around, Walsh puts tax breaks on the table in the city’s 218-page pitch, but at this stage avoids specifying an amount. In contrast, Worcester promised $500 million in tax breaks. Another available incentive the Walsh administration mentions is payment in lieu of taxes — in which the city waives taxes on an entity in favor of requesting that the entity voluntarily contribute some money.
The Walsh administration bid also presents the options of providing grants to train people to be ready to take on Amazon careers and tapping inclusionary development funds for efforts to stabilize housing prices in the neighborhood around Amazon’s second headquarters.
Amazon is expected to have received 238 bids in total for its planned second headquarters. Company leaders seek more than 8 million square feet of space with access to housing options, public transit and car access, short travel time to an airport, a nearby educated workforce and other features.
Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration released a bid that proposes 26 locations across Boston and the state. House Speaker Robert DeLeo has voiced support for one of Walsh’s proposed sites, Suffolk Downs.
First and foremost, Walsh’s pitch presents Suffolk Downs in East Boston and Revere as an ideal location: a shovel-ready, 160-acre campus, with a single owner and access to the Blue Line and the airport. The former horse-racing venue has been proposed for various re-energizing projects over the years, including as the location for a stadium in the 2024 Olympics proposal.
Some advertised features hinge on state investment in transportation. Though the MBTA was ranked as having the most breakdowns of any transit system in the nation in 2016 based on federal transit data, it features importantly in city and state bids. The city’s Suffolk Downs proposal presents both planned-for and hoped-for improvements. These include $25 million for a commuter rail station near the Wonderland stop on the Blue Line as well as the re-starting of efforts to link the Red and Blue Lines. The latter Red-Blue Line connection was put on hold in 2015 and Walsh’s administration estimates it will cost $746 million to complete. The state proposal makes no mention of the Red-Blue line initiative. Non-MBTA transit upgrade proposals from the Walsh administration also include $1.6 million in new ferry routes and $40 million in improvements on Route 1A.
Both the city and state pitches identify “the Harrison Albany Corridor,” which contains Roxbury parcels, as an alternative headquarters location. This area is bounded by the South End, Back Bay, Roxbury and Widett Circle. The state attributes 10 million square feet of developable land to the corridor, while the city pegs the figure at 8 million.
The state’s documents laud the corridor’s proximity to Logan airport as well as the Red, Silver, Orange and Green lines and to I-90 and I-93, as well as the supply within one transit stop to potential workers, including millennials (about 441,000), computer and math professionals (64,000, which beats out Suffolk Down’s 36,000) and people with bachelor’s or advanced degrees (over 875,000, compared to Suffolk Down’s 464,000).
Under the Harrison Albany Corridor plan, Amazon would buy and build on sites in several neighborhoods, including Roxbury. These include city-owned parcel B-2 on Dudley Street, the Boston Planning and Development Agency-controlled Blair Lot on Washington Street, P-3 Partners LLC’s Tremont Crossing on Tremont Street, state-owned P-8 on Melnea Cass Boulevard, Madison Park Development Corporation’s P-10 on Washington Street and New Boston Food Market’s Widett Circle on Foodmart Road.
The Amazon balance
Amazon’s request for proposals states the new headquarters would employ up to 50,000, creating the jobs over a period of 15 to 17 years, with average salaries of $100,000. This would bring income tax revenue to the state as well as economic boost to those local residents attaining these jobs. Additionally, $5 billion in expected investments in the headquarters would bring additional property tax to the city — if the firm is not provided with significant tax cuts — and is likely to enhance Boston’s reputation among tech businesses.
Meanwhile, some fear that working class, longtime Bostonians will not receive these full time Amazon jobs, which may instead go to college graduates, including many from out of town, and that Amazon jobs may attract more newcomers to the city, exacerbating its housing crunch. In Seattle, Amazon’s headquarters city, housing costs rose sharply over the past decade, sparking concerns that people not engaged in the tech industry are being pushed out.
Northeastern University professor Peter Enrich and Noah Berger, executive director of Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, previously told the Banner that any offer to Amazon should focus on things that will bring long-lasting, widespread benefits — such as transportation improvements — over any generous tax breaks to this one specific firm.