|Amazon's Seattle HQ. Photo by Kiewic.|
Amazon’s bombshell solicitation dropped early Thursday morning. The company wants to create a co-equal headquarters—dubbed “HQ2”—in a large metropolitan area with more than a million people and with ample access to a talented technical/professional workforce. The ideal campus site would be adjacent to mass rail transit, within two miles of major highways and arterial roads, within 30 miles of a population center, within 45 minutes of an international airport, and large enough to accommodate 8,000,000 square feet of office space at full buildout. In terms of urban design, Amazon is prioritizing walkability, sustainability, and internet connectivity.
The company plans to invest over $5 billion in the lucky community over the initial 15 years of the project, and it wants to move quickly. To that end, Amazon is prioritizing sites that are already zoned for commercial and mixed-use development and that have the requisite utility infrastructure in place. They also want the permitting process to be quick. And, of course, they also want to know what incentives the jurisdiction is willing to offer for this huge opportunity.
Think Regionally, Not Locally
Naturally, large urban areas across the United States and Canada will all be clamoring for Amazon’s attention. Several pundits, including Brookings, place the Washington Metropolitan Area high in the rankings of possible contenders. Already, several area jurisdictions have expressed interest, but the question is whether and how these jurisdictions will be able to put their parochial concerns aside and advocate in the best interests of the Washington region as a whole.
Amazon has requested that each metropolitan area coordinate with its respective jurisdictions and submit one consolidated RFP response that identifies the best suitable sites that the region has to offer. All proposals are due October 19.
If there is to be any hope of the region’s jurisdictions acting as a team, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) probably should take the lead in preparing the regional submission to Amazon. These are the bodies usually charged with setting and articulating regional priorities.
Morgan Boulevard Station Checks All of Amazon’s Boxes
Setting aside all the jurisdictional posturing, there are really precious few locations in the Washington region that have existing rail transit access, land area, and proximity to downtown Washington, DC, that Amazon’s HQ2 proposal requires. The Morgan Boulevard Metro Station area in central Prince George’s County is one of them.
|Morgan Blvd Station Area. Click for Interactive Map.|
Morgan Boulevard easily meets all of Amazon’s location criteria. As you can see from the purple and brown shaded areas on the interactive map linked above, the station sits virtually undeveloped on 56 acres of land zoned for mixed-use development. It is adjacent to one of the county’s major arterial roads, Central Avenue (MD-214) and within one mile of the Capital Beltway. Additionally, the station is only 9.5 miles and 20 minutes from downtown Washington via Metrorail’s Blue and Silver lines.
BWI-Thurgood Marshall International Airport is a short 30-45 minute drive away from Morgan Boulevard. Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport is even closer, and it is directly accessible via Metrorail. Once construction Metro’s Silver Line is complete, Morgan Boulevard will also directly connect to Dulles International Airport.
Across Central Avenue, slightly southwest of the station and within its half-mile walkshed, sits a vacant 27-acre parcel of commercially zoned land that may be developed with mixed uses. (This is the red shaded area on the map.) This area could provide additional expansion capacity for Amazon in future phases of HQ2’s development. And if that’s not enough, the yellow shaded area directly across Central Avenue from the station provides another approximately 54 acres of industrially zoned space that the county’s land use plans envision for walkable, mixed-use, transit-oriented redevelopment.
|Image by Tape.|
Locally, Prince George’s County has begun to improve its historically labyrinthine permitting process around its 15 Metro stations. Amazon would be able to avail itself of the county’s expedited transit-oriented development procedures.
In terms of financial benefits, Prince George’s County has some of the lowest property values in the Washington region; thus, Amazon would be able to keep its land acquisition costs to a minimum. Also, much of the Morgan Boulevard site is controlled by WMATA or the county, which significantly lessens the need for property assembly. Finally, there are a host of existing incentives available to Amazon from the state and county for developing around Prince George’s inner-Beltway Metro stations.
The Washington region would be hard pressed to come up with potential Amzaon HQ2 locations that provide more of an all-around good deal than the Morgan Boulevard Metro Station area. At a minimum, this area should be included among the top three sites in any regional RFP response to Amazon.