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As Amazon narrows its HQ2 hunt, Chicago may not make the cut

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Front-runners include Northern Virginia, New York, and Dallas

A conceptual rendering of Amazon HQ2 at Chicago’s Lincoln Yards development site.
Sterling Bay

It’s been a busy few days in the ultra-competitive, nationwide hunt to land Amazon’s lucrative “HQ2” second headquarters. New reports suggest that the company has narrowed its search to just a handful of cities and Chicago may not be among them.

According to a weekend report by the Washington Post, the e-commerce and cloud-computing giant is in “advanced talks” to bring HQ2—and its estimated 50,000 jobs and $5 billion of investment—to the Crystal City neighborhood of Arlington, Virginia. The Wall Street Journal followed up with a report that Amazon was engaged in “late-stage talks” with not only Crystal City, but also New York and Dallas.

Though Chicago was not mentioned among the municipalities participating in the negotiations, the newspaper did not necessarily rule out the Windy City. Chicago was one of the 20 cities named to the HQ2 shortlist in January and hosted Amazon delegates during multiple visits to large-scale development sites including The 78, River District, and Lincoln Yards.

The plot thickened on Monday when WSJ published a second article saying that Amazon will split its HQ2 plans between two cities, citing an unnamed source “familiar with the matter.” The decision to divide HQ2 would allow the company to draw employees from two separate talent pools and mitigate anticipated strains on local housing markets, transit networks, and other infrastructure, said the source.

It’s unclear whether the two-city strategy would improve Chicago’s odds of scoring the coveted corporate campus. Chicago officials had offered the Seattle-based company several prominent development sites and were prepared to provide $2 billion worth of incentives including tax breaks and associated infrastructure and capital expenditures. Chicago also commissioned a William Shatner-narrated pitch video to appeal to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’s love of all things Star Trek.

Amazon’s director of economic development, Mike Grella, was quick to fire back at the recent reports, taking to Twitter to say that leaking confidential bid information was “not doing Crystal City, VA any favors.” Grella also dismissively lampooned an article claiming that the flight logs of Bezos’s private jet could hold the key to sussing out the HQ2 winner ahead of the company’s official announcement.

The Washington, D.C., area—which includes Crystal City—was rumored to be an HQ2 front-runner ever since three nearby cities were named as finalists. The area’s proximity to federal regulators, the Jeff Bezos-owned Washington Post, and the CEO’s large second home further bolster that thesis.

Amazon said it will reveal the winning city—or perhaps, now, cities—by the end of the year. Will Chicago surprise the critics and oddsmakers and come through? Stay tuned to find out.

Update: The New York Times reported that Amazon is “nearing a deal” to split HQ2 between the Long Island City neighborhood of Queens, New York and the Crystal City location. Although Amazon declined to comment as to whether it had finalized its plans, more signs point to the 13-month-long HQ2 derby, described by some as an “urbanist Super Bowl”, finally drawing to a close.