Pitching to Amazon: Frisco leaders address strongest, weakest points

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Mayor to Amazon: See yourself in Frisco
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Mayor to Amazon: See yourself in Frisco
Image description
Mayor to Amazon: See yourself in Frisco
Cities across the country have been scrambling to put their best foot forward after Amazon announced in early September an open search for the company’s second headquarters.

Amazon has given cities about a month and a half to submit proposals for the site of what the online shopping and technology giant is calling HQ2.

Frisco put its hat in the ring with a video announcement released
Sept. 18, saying the city would be a perfect fit for Amazon.

“It’s not often that you get invited to compete in the economic development Olympics of America,” said Jim Gandy, Frisco Economic Development Corp. president.

Amazon plans to hire 50,000 new employees and invest $5 billion in the construction and operation of the second headquarters.

For years, Frisco City Council has made it a top priority to attract one of the top 100 companies on Fortune 500’s list. Amazon lands at No. 12 on that list, making it an ideal company to pursue, Frisco Mayor Jeff Cheney said.

“This is an extraordinary opportunity that many cities across the country will be targeting as far as trying to make the short list of cities being considered,” he said. “We feel we are in a unique position to offer a campus like Amazon what they need, what their employees need from a quality-of-life perspective.”

Frisco’s strongest asset
One of the greatest advantages Frisco has is the available land to build a corporate campus of the size that Amazon is seeking, Cheney said.

Amazon is looking to build a campus using either existing buildings or undeveloped land. For an undeveloped site, the company is looking for at least 100 acres.

Any campus site would also need to be within 30 miles of a population center of at least 1 million people, within 45 minutes of a major international airport and within two miles of major arterial roadways.

Multiple sites in the city would be able to accommodate those needs. Brinkmann Ranch, for instance, is planned for major urban development, which could include a corporate campus. Brinkmann Ranch land spans more than 1,000 acres in East Frisco, and parcels of the land have been sold in recent years for development.

Other developments, such as Frisco Station, have plans to incorporate space for a corporate headquarters, though with not as much space as Amazon is asking for. At build-out, Amazon’s second headquarters could exceed 8 million square feet, eight times the size of what is planned at Frisco Station.

But plans could be changed to make room for a campus that size, Hillwood Properties President Mike Berry said. Zoning within Frisco Station allows for a building up to 35 stories high.

“Even though there’s 1 million square feet shown on the campus plan, the [planned development] for Frisco Station allows more density than we’ve actually shown on the plan,” Berry said.

If Amazon located its headquarters within one of the $5 Billion Mile developments, it would add to the already growing investment of that area, Gandy said.

“They’re saying at build-out this could be a $5 billion project,” he said. “So that could mean we have either two $5 Billion Miles or our existing $5 Billion Mile goes to over $10 billion.”

One thing missing
Out of all of the preferences listed in Amazon’s request for proposal, the one factor that does not currently exist in Frisco is a public transportation system.

The city offers demand-response service through the Denton County Transportation Authority. The service is open only to elderly and disabled residents.

A commuter rail line has been in the city’s long-term plans for some time. The line could connect all the way to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. However, there are no immediate plans to implement the rail line.

But that is not to say that public transportation will not be in Frisco’s future. Cheney said the city would explore all options if it landed the Amazon bid.

“If Frisco were successful in landing a project of this magnitude, we would shift focus to be able to work with Amazon and their leaders to develop a custom strategy for our city and for their needs to be able to get people around,” he said.

Cheney said public transportation is changing from the traditional bus and rail systems. For instance, a company has pitched the idea of using autonomous—or self-driving—buses in the city. Since the technology already exists, Cheney said implementing an autonomous bus system in the city could be done relatively quickly.

Cheney said the city is also well-versed in working with private partners to come up with unique solutions.

“Really, Amazon choosing Frisco would be a blank canvas for them where they have an opportunity to design a campus to their needs and to work with the city and the region to develop a transportation plan for their needs,” he said. “That’s something that I’m extremely excited to have the opportunity to pursue.”

The prospect of Amazon coming to Frisco has raised concerns among residents about increased traffic and density with the number of potential employees who could move to the city. Cheney said those are expected effects of a growing city.

"Frisco is going to build out," he said. "We're going to add millions of square footage of office; we're going to build out the tollway; we're going to build out [US] 380. Development is coming, but our focus is we love to have great brands in our city. Obviously, Amazon is one of the top brands in the entire world."

The process
Frisco is far from alone in vying for Amazon. North American cities such as Chicago, Toronto, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., have all publicly announced their intent to submit a proposal.

Other Dallas-Fort Worth area cities, including Dallas, McKinney and Grapevine, have also said they will submit proposals.

Cities have until Oct. 19 to submit their proposals to Amazon.

Frisco will be sending its proposal to the Dallas Regional Chamber, which is collecting all of the proposals from cities in the region to send in bulk to Amazon, Gandy said.

“That part of it is fairly standard,” he said. “We do that quite often on some of these big company searches.”

Cities are asked to submit potential building sites, any incentives offered for the project, the area's labor and wage rate information, travel logistics and a summary of the community atmosphere.

From there, Amazon will review the proposals and is expected to make a final site selection and announcement in 2018. The company is looking to begin Phase I of the project by 2019.

To pick its host city, Amazon will consider whether the city would offer an economic incentive package.

Gandy said a project of this magnitude means Frisco would be looking at significant economic incentives that it has never considered before. Cheney added that the city would be aggressive in its pursuit of Amazon.

“Amazon is a brand and a culture that fits that of Frisco,” Cheney said. “We’re an innovative, fast-paced community, we’re a highly educated community, and it’s certainly a bull's-eye project for us.”
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