Amazon dashed the Baltimore region’s hopes of landing the plum prize of its second headquarters and tens of thousands of new jobs, as the online retail giant excluded the city from its list of finalists announced Thursday.
But Maryland remained in the chase, with Montgomery County making the list of 20 finalists, and state officials quickly began assembling an incentive package to help the Washington suburb land Amazon.
Baltimore Mayor Catherine E. Pugh said she was very disappointed that the city’s proposal to put Amazon in the Port Covington development in South Baltimore didn’t make the cut, but added that it wouldn’t deter the city’s efforts to land other businesses, including Apple, which said Wednesday that it too plans another corporate campus employing thousands.
“Every time an opportunity presents itself, Baltimore will be in the mix,” Pugh said during a news conference Thursday morning at City Hall.
While Pugh said “we may never know” why Amazon didn’t pick Baltimore, she rebuffed suggestions that the city’s record-breaking pace of homicides was a factor. “If you go over the list … there are cities on the list with comparable crime rates,” she said.
“I think we had a great proposal,” Pugh said.
Marc Weller, a developer with the Port Covington project, released a statement expressing disappointment at losing the Amazon opportunity.
“The collective work of the city, state, community and business leaders on the Amazon HQ2 bid will undoubtedly help our city attract future business and commercial capital, and the Port Covington Development team never slows in our efforts to bring new investment to Baltimore,” said Weller, the president of Sagamore Development, which is Under Armour founder Kevin Plank’s private development firm.
Maryland offered up multiple locations for the coveted “HQ2,” which comes with the promise of a $5 billion investment and 50,000 jobs. In addition to Baltimore’s Port Covington bid, Prince George’s County, Howard County and Baltimore’s Old Goucher neighborhood pitched the Seattle-based giant. Amazon said it received 238 bids from across North America.
Amazon’s requests for bids set off a frenzy of activity in dozens of cities and counties, with many offering up lucrative tax breaks and other incentives.
Officials have kept Baltimore’s proposal for Port Covington, the 235-acre South Baltimore site where Sagamore Development is planning a new campus for Under Armour, confidential. They have denied Maryland Public Information Act requests to review the full plan on the grounds that it was submitted to Amazon by the developers, not the city government.
Gov. Larry Hogan said he would personally lobby to bring Amazon to Port Covington, which he said represented the state’s best bet.
Hogan said Thursday his administration will submit legislation Monday to create a $5 billion incentive package to lure the online retailer to Montgomery County. Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer said an incentive package submitted for Port Covington contained was also $5 billion.
In a statement, Hogan called Montgomery’s selection as a finalist “tremendous news,” saying he will work with Montgomery County officials “to ensure that we do everything possible to bring this project home.”
Amazon said it was looking for cities that could provide an initial 500,000 square feet of space, preferably in an urban or suburban area, with access to major highways, airports, public transportation and a robust technology workforce.
In Baltimore, officials quickly settled on Port Covington as the best option to put forward after Amazon announced its search. Bill Cole, head of the city’s development agency, quickly emailed his team: “the Mayor and Baltimore city are all in,” according to documents released to The Baltimore Sun under the Maryland Public Information Act.
Sagamore Development has been planning a massive mixed-use redevelopment of Port Covington, including offices, residences and retail with a new Under Armour campus at the South Baltimore peninsula on the Patapsco River.
“We know when Amazon sees this site there won’t be any place else they want to choose,” Pugh said in October. The mayor held a public ceremony to mark the day she sent the city’s pitch to Amazon, holding up a box with a red seal that contained the proposal.
Port Covington is also home to The Baltimore Sun’s printing plant, for which the company has a long-term lease with an affiliate of Sagamore Development. The Baltimore Sun Media Group recently announced plans to move newsroom, advertising and other operations from the newspaper’s longtime home at 501 N. Calvert St. to the printing plant property.
Cole and Donald C. Fry, head of the Greater Baltimore Committee business group, joined Pugh at her news conference Thursday and pledged to push forward on trying to lure other companies to the city. Both called the city’s pitch to Amazon “very competitive.”
While Pugh and city business leaders struck an optimistic tone that Baltimore could build off of the failed Amazon effort, other officials said the rejection was yet another consequence of the city’s systemic social problems.
Del. Nick Mosby, a West Baltimore Democrat, said a look at the cities that did make the cut showed they have things in common that Baltimore lacks: mass transit, bicycle route infrastructure, investment in public schools and low crime.
“They’re all progressive in many of the ways that we’ve fallen behind,” he said. “It gives us an opportunity to reflect on where we need to improve as a city.”
“It shows that the challenges that we’re facing in Baltimore are eclipsing some of the wonderful and important things that are happening in our city,” said Del. Brooke E. Lierman, a Democrat whose district includes Port Covington.
Lierman and Del. Luke Clippinger, another Democrat who also represents Port Covington, put part of the blame on Hogan. Though the governor rallied support behind Baltimore’s Amazon bid, they said he has in other ways signaled reasons the company shouldn’t chose the city.
Clippinger said the news particularly stung on the heels of Hogan’s budget proposal released Wednesday, which showed that the governor wants to cut $21 million from planned spending on state programs that help city school students and encourage redevelopment in the city.
“When we lose out on opportunities like the Red Line and we see disinvestment in community programs from the chief executive of our state, it doesn’t send a good message to large companies about why they should invest in Baltimore as well,” Lierman said.
Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, who backed the Port Covington proposal instead of offering a site in his county, blamed Hogan’s decision to stop the Red Line, a proposed east-west light rail project. Kamenetz, a Democrat running for governor in hopes of unseating Hogan, said in a tweet that the lack of public transit “was a critical nail in the coffin” for the city’s Amazon bid.
When Hogan killed the Red Line in 2015, he did keep the Purple Line, which eventually will serve Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.
Hogan told reporters he did not know why Amazon didn’t include Baltimore in its top 20, but dismissed suggestions that his decisions on city funding and projects in the city had anything to do with it.
“It’s silly. The Red Line doesn’t go anywhere near Port Covington. Our proposal was going to include — did include — light rail to the site and major transportation improvements,” Hogan said. “It’s political nonsense.”
Economists said Baltimore’s bid to win Amazon was always a long shot.
University of Baltimore economics professor Richard Clinch consulted for Sagamore on the pitch and said he thought the city at least would make the list of finalists. Clinch said an educated information-technology workforce, low cost of living and waterfront location should have worked in the city’s favor.
“Baltimore has a lot to work with,” he said. “I thought that would be recognized and we would be finalists. But I thought the odds-on favorite would be a bigger city.”
Anirban Basu of Sage Policy Group had a dimmer view of the city’s chances.
“It was a fantasy to think we could secure the second Amazon headquarters,” Basu said. “One wonders if we had been able to put our best foot forward over the past three years if we would have made the list.”
Instead, he said, the city’s profile has been scarred by rioting, record homicide rates, closed schools and other social ills that have made national headlines. Still, Basu said, Baltimore easily should have trumped other cities that made the finalist list.
“It’s frustrating that Newark, N.J., made the list and not Baltimore,” he said.
Prince George’s County Executive RushernL. Baker III — who also is running for governor as a Democrat — said he was disappointed his county didn’t make the cut, but said he’d support his neighbors in Montgomery County in their efforts.
Baker noted that Amazon put three Washington, D.C.-area locations on its list of finalists: Montgomery County, Northern Virginia and the District itself.
“Amazon’s decision today clearly recognizes the strength of the region,” Baker said in a statement.
Amazon also passed over Howard County, which offered sites in downtown Columbia and the Columbia Gateway industrial park. But officials said they think the county would benefit if neighboring Montgomery County lands Amazon.
“We’re happy that Montgomery County is on the list because it’s a win for the state,” said Larry Twele, CEO of the Howard County Economic Development Authority. “I’m not at all disappointed. A project of that size would benefit the entire region.”
The Old Goucher Community Association, which submitted its own bid created by volunteers, issued a statement saying that residents still believe their Baltimore neighborhood is a great choice for businesses to locate.
“Affordable commercial property, an abundance of mass transit options, and proximity to world-class educational institutions remain the defining features of our neighborhood,” the community wrote.
Baltimore Sun reporters Talia Richman, Lorraine Mirabella, Erin Cox, Ian Duncan, Scott Dance and Doug Donovan and Baltimore Sun Media Group reporter Kate Magill contributed to this article.