Amazon's HQ2 needs more square footage than these 14 Austin buildings combined

Austin and Amazon's HQ2.

Austin and Amazon's HQ2.

The current stock of commercial properties in downtown Austin shows square footage would fall shy of total, eventual space requirements of up to 8.1 million square feet for Amazon’s planned second North American headquarters known as HQ2, public appraisal records show.

Excluding properties such as the University of Texas System Building, Seton/UMC Brackenridge hospital and hotel enterprises such as the Fairmont, JW Marriott and Austin Hilton Convention Hotel, the top 14 remaining properties by space total 6,638,943 square feet. With those properties included, Austin has more than 11 million square feet of commercial space.

An analysis of Austin's top downtown properties by space shows Amazon's eventual HQ2 would outsize current square footage.[/caption]

Those 14 building complexes which include Frost Tower (401 Congress Ave.) and One Congress Plaza (111 Congress Ave.) have existing tenants. But Community Impact’s analysis of property appraisal records illustrate how massive Amazon’s request really is.

Amazon’s request for proposal shows the Seattle HQ is spread over 33 buildings (8.1 million square feet) to accommodate its current 40,000 employees. The HQ2 request indicates the initial square footage requirement would be 500,000-plus for Phase 1 in 2019, eventually surpassing 8 million square feet beyond 2027.

Amazon also requires the winning city bid to be:

  • within 30 miles of a population center

  • within a 45-minute drive of an international airport

  • not more than 1-2 miles from major highways

  • access to mass transit


Amazon’s website shows company leaders value how walkable is current HQ is: 15 percent of workers live in the same ZIP code and one in five walks to work in the South Lake Union neighborhood of Seattle.

A data-driven view of Austin from Moody's Analytics showed Texas' capital city is No. 1 as a site choice.

The Downtown Austin Alliance recently completed a full downtown development capacity analysis and identified the potential to create an additional 60 million square feet downtown. That would be double the size of Austin's current downtown taking in all structures.

"The Downtown Alliance works to guarantee our urban core is a place people want to live, work and visit, said Alliance President and CEO Dewitt M. Peart in a statement to Community Impact Newspaper.

"Through the Downtown Austin Alliance Vision and Action Plan and the Congress Avenue Urban Design Initiative, we are working to ensure our public spaces are activated, our downtown is affordable for those want to live and work in the area, and our mobility is improved."

Peart pointed out the Alliances sees many businesses, such as Merck &Co., that are excited to bring their companies to downtown Austin, particularly in the Innovation District. That district is described as a communal hub that will bring together companies, researchers and entrepreneurs for example, to work towards advances in technology, medicine and other fields.

What about outside of downtown?

Should Austin win the bid, presented as a regional bid covering the Austin-Round Rock Metropolitan Statistical Area, the mammoth undertaking could still leave sites outside downtown where Amazon could develop its own campus. Sixty-four sites are being considered by the Austin Chamber of Commerce for its work on the proposal to Amazon.

Commercial real estate brokers agree, downtown Austin just doesn't have the space to put a corporate headquarters on the scale of Amazon.

"You go west [Austin], you're paying high dollar. Downtown, there's nothing to accommodate that [size of corporate client]. They're going to have to build," said Realtor Nathan K. Smith with AustinTenantAdvisors.com.

"Maybe [there's room] alongside Hwy. 183 to the east of downtown. "If you built it in [an outlying area like] Hutto, it would become the new downtown," he said.

A quiet bid for HQ2

Other urban areas have been very public about pitching their interest to Amazon. Austin, by design, has quietly worked toward a strong proposal.

Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce Senior Vice President of Communications Mike Berman said Austin does things a little differently and pointed out as a regional chamber there are a lot of cities involved in the five-county area it represents around Travis County.

“We’re not going to play the PR stunt game," Berman said. "It’s fun to see what other cities are doing. [And] we’re all for competition. But that’s not what we’re going to do. We’ve been heads down with communities and site developers. We’ll decide after the [Oct.] 19 [deadline what elements to make public.] We’re working with so many communities, so we want to be respectful of everybody involved.”

Berman did suggest parts of Amazon’s RFP feel like they were written for Austin.

“The good news is that the Austin region has a ton of attributes including a talented workforce, plenty of available land, one of the nation’s fastest growing airports, as well as a great quality of life.  We have numerous development sites in preferred growth corridors around the region which could allow Amazon to create a world-class campus for its future,” Berman said.

What would also likely be in the pitch is a mention of Austin’s consistently strong population growth and its high number of millennials which make up 27.3% of the region’s population, according to the latest American Community Survey put out by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Amazon is expected to announce its winning bid in 2018.
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