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Report sheds new light on Chicago’s bid for Amazon HQ2

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Chicago was one of five finalists and Amazon was most interested in The 78

More than one month after Amazon announced its decision to split its HQ2 campus between Arlington, Virginia and New York City, new details regarding Chicago’s failed bid to land the lucrative corporate expansion surfaced in documents made public by Freedom of Information Act request published by Crain’s.

While plenty of Chicago residents and journalists were more than happy to finally put the HQ2 saga in the city’s collective rearview mirror, the report does provide some interesting insight into the bid process including Amazon’s interests and concerns as well as the financial incentives being offered to the e-commerce and cloud computing powerhouse.

Here are 8 of the biggest takeaways and eyebrow-raising details highlighted in the report:

  • Chicago was one of five finalist cities in the running to land HQ2. During its 13-month-long search, Amazon officials visited five of the ten development sites listed in Chicago’s formal bid. These include The 78, Lincoln Yards, the River District, Fulton Market District, and the Burnham Lakefront.
  • The Seattle-based tech giant was most interested in The 78, developer Related Midwest’s vacant 62-acre riverfront parcel between the South Loop and Chinatown. Amazon reps made a second visit to The 78, but not a third as indicated by some sources.
A rendering of The 78.
Related Midwest
  • City, state, and county officials pledged at least $2.253 billion in tax breaks and other financial incentives to Amazon. The figure includes payroll credits, sales tax exemptions on construction costs, property tax breaks, and investments such as transit improvements and workforce training.
  • A letter signed by Governor Bruce Rauner, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle indicated a vague promise to “consider other incentives that represent sound economic policy” once Amazon further narrowed its search. For comparison, New York offered the company nearly $3 billion for its half of the HQ2 prize.
  • In addition to saving Amazon loads of money, Chicago officials hoped to save the company time as well. The city’s Build Department was prepared to offer the company a “concierge service” to streamline not only construction permits for HQ2 itself but also for the homes of its workers and executives.
  • Amazon was concerned with Chicago’s struggle with violent crime, revealed emails uncovered by Crain’s. Deputy Mayor Bob Rivkin responded by describing a rise in murders as “a spike” and said police had made progress on the issue.
  • Feeling good about their chances and wanting be prepared for any eventuality, City Hall preemptively drafted a press release announcing Chicago as the winner of HQ2. “Today Chicago begins a close partnership with Amazon as it builds its new home and continues to reach new heights for generations to come,” said Mayor Emanuel in a document cited in the report.
  • The FOIA request does not, however, reveal how much money the public-private partnership known as World Business Chicago sank in drafting the Chicago bid. It was rumored that William Shatner was paid $50,000 for voiceover work as part of the city’s official bid video, but that figure remains unconfirmed.

These documents illustrate not only the complexity of the bidding process but also the lengths to which a city like Chicago would go to lure the company and its coveted 50,000 tech jobs. Whether you believe Chicago missed out or dodged a potential bullet, the fact that the city ranked so favorably in such an intense global competition is certainly encouraging.