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How much should Boston want Amazon’s new HQ?

Jule Pattison-Gordon | 9/27/2017, 10:20 a.m.

Could Boston become Amazon’s next home? The online retail giant seemed to be angling to stir up a national bidding war when it announced earlier this month its intentions to construct a second headquarters and invited municipalities to make their case for becoming the firm’s other home. Mayor Martin Walsh responded with enthusiasm, noting on Twitter that Amazon expects to invest $5 billion and create 50,000 jobs, which the firm says it would do over the course of 15 to 17 years.

For Bostonians, memories are still fresh of the controversy over the efforts of Walsh and Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration to entice General Electric to the city. Walsh celebrated the victory, while City Councilor and mayoral challenger Tito Jackson attacked Walsh repeatedly over the generous incentive package, which included $25 million in city property tax breaks, $120 million in state grants and a $100-million bridge renovation, calling it a misuse of public resources. Now, the Amazon possibility offers the city a chance to reassess or replicate its approach.

Bids are due from cities on Oct. 19, 2017 with headquarters construction intended to start in 2019.

What Amazon wants

Amazon’s announcement unleashed a flurry of speculation over the firm’s final decision, with many weighing Boston’s chances.

Amazon is looking for more than 8 million square feet of space, favoring a shovel-ready parcel. Other desires: quick access to the airport, easy car and public transit access, a mix of housing options available near the site and desirable housing prices, as well as a “business friendly environment” and “local government structure and elected officials eager and willing to work with the company.” Amazon also specifies that “a highly educated labor pool is critical and a strong university system is required,” and a preference for a metropolitan area with at least a million people, according to its request for proposals.

Boston certainly is college-rich, graduating many with software development and engineering talent. But other factors such as easily accessible, low-congestion transportation and nearby attainably-priced housing are items the city currently struggles to provide.

Even with the city’s educational strengths, it is unlikely Boston will fill all of Amazon’s hiring needs. An influx or new concentration of workers could put further pressure on city’s transit and housing scene, some say. Alternatively, some hope that the prospect of an Amazon headquarters could encourage new investment into making such improvements.

Given the sheer size of Amazon’s intended headquarters, it could be difficult to site in Boston. While Walsh has stated intentions to submit a bid for Boston, Revere Mayor Brian Arrigo and House Speaker Robert DeLeo support instead locating the so-called HQ2 on Suffolk Downs, which straddles the border of East Boston and Revere, and other Massachusetts municipalities also have been proposed.

Why do we want Amazon?

Amazon states in its RFP that it anticipates employing up to 50,000 people with average salaries of $100,000. That means higher income tax revenue for the state, and, with Amazon planning to invest $5 billion, strong property taxes for the city. Amazon’s presence, coming on top of GE’s, also could solidify for Boston a reputation as the dominant tech center on the east coast, which could help draw other businesses and retain startups, said Peter Enrich, professor at Northeastern University School of Law.