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St. Louis will put together 'a very competitive' bid for new Amazon HQ, local officials say

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E-commerce giant Amazon.com is scouting North America for a second headquarters with as many as 50,000 jobs, and St. Louis officials said they plan to make a strong bid to be in the running for the $5 billion construction project.

The Seattle-based company announced Thursday that it was opening up a request for proposals process for a second headquarters in North America. The new location will be “a full equal” with its current Seattle headquarters, the company said, with as many as 50,000 jobs, said Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO. The average compensation for each new full-time employee will exceed $100,000.

The announcement immediately set off a scramble among cities and states vying to make the short list. Major cities that announced plans to make bids to chase one of the biggest corporate deals in years include Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Toronto and Memphis, Tenn.

“We’re all abuzz this morning about Amazon’s announcement,” St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson said at the Governor’s Conference on Economic Development, which is being held the Hilton at the Ballpark in downtown St. Louis.

Krewson said local officials are “putting together a team right now to make a very competitive” proposal.

The St. Louis Economic Development Partnership, the economic development agency serving the city and St. Louis County, will submit a single bid in response to Amazon’s RFP, said Katy Jamboretz, the partnership’s spokeswoman.

To that end, Krewson, St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger, St. Louis Economic Development Partnership CEO Sheila Sweeney, Regional Chamber President and CEO Joe Reagan and the city’s Deputy Mayor for Development Linda Martinez held a conference call Thursday morning to begin discussions about attracting Amazon’s corporate facilities to the St. Louis region.

“The new Amazon headquarters is the kind of opportunity that can transform a community,” Stenger said in a statement. “We want this facility in the St. Louis region.”

Enthusiasm for the project wasn’t limited to elected officials. On Twitter Thursday, the St. Louis Cardinals tweeted: “@amazon, you belong in St. Louis,” and the tweet included a map of the Ballpark Village mixed-use development next to the team’s downtown stadium.

Sites that may be offered as potential locations for Amazon, or incentives that may be offered to the corporation, were not disclosed.

“We will be continuing to work together throughout today and in the weeks ahead to ensure our region is best-positioned to secure this significant economic development opportunity and the resulting benefits for our community,” Stenger’s statement continued.

Sweeney said St. Louis will make an “aggressive, out-of-the box creative” proposal.

“Amazon as a tech company has grown by out-of-the-box thinking and to equate with their mentality, we need to as well,” Sweeney said.

The region’s rivers, railroads and interstates make St. Louis a contender from a logistics perspective, she said. “We have a lot of the infrastructure in place they’d be looking for.”

Amazon encouraged states and metro areas to coordinate with relevant jurisdictions to only submit one bid for each region. However, St. Clair County officials, located across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, said the county reached out to commercial real estate professionals Thursday to identify sites and St. Clair County plans to submit its own bid.

“This is a mega deal,” said St. Clair County’s economic development director Terry Beach. “We plan on submitting at least one site to Amazon.”

Also in the Metro East, Madison County officials are in talks with the St. Louis Regional Chamber about participating in a regional bid. “The St. Louis region, on both sides of the Mississippi, has great locations,” Madison County Board Chairman Kurt Prenzler said in an emailed statement.

“In Madison County, we have available land and a nationally recognized logistics presence,” Prenzler’s statement continued, noting Amazon has two logistics centers in Edwardsville with more than 2,200 employees.

Cities have until Oct. 19 to apply, and the company said it will make a final decision next year. It gave few hints about where it would land, but did say it is looking at metropolitan areas with populations of more than a million that have access to mass transit, an international airport and the potential to attract top technical talent.

Amazon is growing rapidly: In just the last month it announced plans to build new warehouses in Oregon, New York and Ohio, to pack and ship packages. And it recently paid close to $14 billion to buy organic grocer Whole Foods and its more than 465 stores. The company plans to hire 100,000 people by the middle of next year.

St. Louis is among the regions where Amazon is growing its operations. The company recently announced plans to open its first Missouri facility in Hazelwood in two warehouses that will employ 350 part-time workers.

Last year, Amazon opened two fulfillment centers in Edwardsville that have 2,200 part- and full-time employees.

At Amazon’s 33-building headquarters campus in Seattle, where more than 40,000 people are employed, there are 24 restaurants and cafes. That campus has 8.1 million square feet of space, and the company said it’s looking for a second site comparable in size. An initial phase of the project would require a half-million square feet of space in 2019, according to the RFP.

If Amazon is looking for a location closer to the East Coast that could serve as a base for the company’s global expansion, cities that could be considered top contenders include Atlanta, Boston and Richmond, Va., said Bob Lewis, principal of St. Louis-based economic and real estate development consulting firm Development Strategies.

The St. Louis region, both in Missouri and the Metro East, also has a good shot as it competes with about 50 other cities that meet Amazon’s minimum population threshold, Lewis said.

“St. Louis needs to show a singular face and be forceful about it and brag about the fact that we can do this,” Lewis said, adding the recent decision by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency to build its $1.7 billion western complex in north St. Louis should be part of the sales pitch.

The St. Louis region has land available that could accommodate Amazon’s real estate needs, Lewis said, including immediately north of downtown, in north St. Louis County and in Madison County near Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.

“We can pull these things off and we have a lot of room to grow,” Lewis said. “I don’t think finding affordable land will be a challenge.”

Jacob Barker of the Post-Dispatch and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

Lisa Brown • 314-340-8127

@lisabrownstl on Twitter

lbrown@post-dispatch.com

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