Amazon laid out very specific criteria for the new, second headquarters campus it’s looking to build somewhere in North America, and dozens of cities are no doubt preparing pitches about why they present the ideal mix of talent, transportation access, quality of life amenities and so on to meet the company’s requirements. But there’s one big one that’s been overlooked in much of the coverage, and that’s speed. Amazon wants metro areas to submit proposals by Oct. 19 and expects to make a decision next year — an astonishingly fast timeline for a project of this size. It wants to know what a city and state can commit to now in terms of available sites, infrastructure, tax incentives and more.
On that front, Baltimore has a huge advantage. We already paved the way for a mega-development in an urban area with the requisite access to highways, rail, an international airport; proximity to major institutions of higher education; a redundant fiber optic loop in the works for Internet access, and capacity to handle the 8 million square feet of office space the company will eventually need. It’s got parks, pro sports stadiums around the corner and waterfront views to boot. It’s already in an enterprise zone, meaning property tax and income tax benefits for new hires are automatic. And all the potentially messy fights about public subsidies for the requisite infrastructure have already been resolved in a way that proved satisfactory to some of the city’s toughest critics.
We’re talking, of course, about Port Covington. Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank’s Sagamore Development has already amassed the land, secured the public approvals and started work on a development planned to include not just a new corporate campus for the athletic apparel company but also millions of square feet of additional office, residential and recreational space. It is minutes to BWI, Amtrak and MARC trains. Amazon says it wants its campus to be within two miles of a major highway or artery road. How about a site with direct access to I-95?
(Full disclosure: The Sun’s printing plant, for which we have a long-term lease, is owned by Sagamore.)
Meanwhile, Port Covington sits right between two top-30 computer science departments, at the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University, and is even closer to the STEM factory that is the University of Maryland-Baltimore County. Of note, UMBC not only is a leader in collaboration with high-tech industry but also in graduating minorities with science degrees — both skills and diversity are on Amazon’s wish list. There’s also a substantial pool of talent down the road at the NSA and U.S. Cyber Command at Ft. Meade.
Boston, New York and Washington (or, more likely, the Virginia suburbs) are considered strong East Coast contenders, and they all meet some of Amazon’s requirements. But the cost of living and doing business in all of them (both factors Amazon is considering) are substantially higher than they are here.
The most obvious shortcoming for Baltimore (and the one where those other cities have us beat) is our public transportation system, a top consideration for Amazon. Sagamore’s plans call for the eventual construction of a light rail spur into the development, as well as water taxi access and connections via a pedestrian bridge. But we can’t invent a truly integrated subway/light rail system for the city between now and Oct. 19. The Red Line wouldn't necessarily have helped provide access for this project and site, but Gov. Larry Hogan’s decision to kill it can’t make our state commitment to mass transit look good. Addressing that, as much as whatever package of tax incentives he might muster, could be key to a successful application.
Mr. Hogan needs to work closely with Mayor Catherine Pugh and other regional leaders to address that — perhaps with plans for bus rapid transit or other projects that can be completed quickly. For that reason, it is imperative that local and state leaders coalesce behind one proposed location for the Baltimore region. Port Covington makes the most sense.
Amazon says each metro area should submit one proposal, although it can include multiple location options. Other potentially suitable spots exist here, such as the Tradepoint development at Sparrows Point and some potential redevelopment sites in the city, but none can match Port Covington in terms of both the speed with which Amazon could move forward and the attractiveness it presents for potential employees. To make our strongest case, we should unite behind it.
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