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Boston prepped to pony up big-time on its Suffolk Downs bid for Amazon HQ2

By Jordan Graham
Boston Herald

October 20. 2017 8:53AM
Amazon's campus in Seattle, Wash., photographed from the roof of Amazon's Port 99 building. Real-estate developers from Phoenix to Washington, D.C., are suggesting former shopping malls as prime locations for Amazon's next headquarters. (Jordan Stead/Amazon)

Boston's Amazon HQ2 bid calls for nearly $1 billion in state and federal transportation improvements to make Suffolk Downs a suitable site for the massive campus -- and promises to spend $75 million from development fees to bolster an already strained local housing market to accommodate 50,000 workers.

In the 214-page bid submitted last night, Boston says it will push the state to extend the Blue Line to Park Street, improve Route 1A, and add a commuter rail station, extend the Silver Line and add ferry service to Suffolk Downs. Those projects would require an estimated $812 million in state and possibly federal money.

"We see these as really smart investment in infrastructure and transit that allows Suffolk Downs and the neighborhood to be more development-ready. A lot of this came out of the conversations that came out of the neighborhood about building anything," said John Barros, head of the city's economic development office. "We think these are good investments for growth."

State transportation officials declined to comment when asked if the state has agreed to fund any of those projects.

Boston's bid was one of about 24 from Massachusetts cities and towns for Amazon's proposed $5 billion, 8-million-square-foot second headquarters, competing against what could be hundreds of others nationwide.

The city's bid also proposes improvements to Bennington Street in East Boston and expanding the East Boston Greenway, a roughly $12 million to $16 million investment. Officials said an 8-million-square-foot Amazon project would likely mean $75 million in linkage fees, payments commercial developers in Boston pay, that will be used for housing.

The Boston bid does not include any specific tax incentives, but says the city is open to discussion. Economic development officials said the city has had informal discussions with Amazon and indicated that tax incentives will be on the table, but said they have not discussed numbers.

The bid also offers to create seaplane service between Boston and New York City and says JetBlue has already agreed to handle Amazon's corporate travel needs. An Amazon task force of city officials would be responsible for handling permitting, workforce issues and community outreach, as was done for GE.

Boston's proposal touts the city's world-class universities, tech companies and highly trained workforce. It also offers the city as a potential testing ground for Amazon projects such as drone deliveries or self-driving cars, city officials said.

At Suffolk Downs, the bid proposes a retail section where Amazon could test concepts, such as its brick-and-mortar bookstore or next-generation grocery store that tallies customers' bills as they take food off the shelf. The bid mentions the city's food technology startups -- Amazon recently started its own meal-delivery service -- and pitches Berklee College of Music as a potential gold mine of talent for Amazon's television and movie arm.

"We wanted to say to them, we know your business, we know how you're trying to grow your business," Barros said.

Boston's proposal for Suffolk Downs includes as many as 10,000 housing units and 40 acres of open space. The city is also pitching the former Boston Flower Exchange, South Station and the South Boston waterfront as alternative sites, though none of those could fit Amazon's entire headquarters.

Corporate relocation expert Thomas Stringer told the Herald, "Boston's an interesting location -- it hits right on the ability to supply the requisite talent base," Stringer said. "But from a cost perspective, the Northeast, New York, Boston, Connecticut, is a challenge."

Mark Melnick, director of the UMass Donahue Institute, said, "With or without Amazon, there are questions of long-range investments in transportation and housing costs in the region. It's going to take careful planning."


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