As the dust settles following the six-week dash to submit the city’s Amazon headquarters bid, attention is turning to what can be repurposed from the work — regardless of Amazon’s choice.

The effort is reminiscent of another citywide sales job — the 2012 Olympic bid, which paved the way for sweeping redevelopment across the five boroughs under Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

And while the bids are very different, both efforts promoted cooperation amongst competitors and represent the mayor’s respective visions for growth. For Bloomberg, it was redeveloping sleepy industrial areas of the city for residential use and for de Blasio, it is creating jobs in revitalized borough “downtowns” and pockets of Manhattan to complement affordable housing efforts.

With the Amazon proposal, many involved say that even if the “HQ2” bid fails, it has laid the groundwork for future efforts to lure companies to the city. While this may be true in the short-term, the bid lacks the larger infrastructure plans, such as new transportation initiatives, which led to wins out of the Olympic bid in the long-term, with or without outside interests.

But, it is a starting point.

“I think where the analogy works is that it’s been a forcing mechanism that has resulted in a significant amount of effort in what otherwise would be viewed as a limited amount of time and I am confident that out of those efforts, real projects will eventually emerge whether Amazon comes or not,” said Seth Pinsky, executive vice president of RXR Realty, who was involved in Long Island City’s HQ2 proposal.

Click on the dots above to learn more about proposed Olympic sites (in purple) and proposed Amazon HQ2 sites (in orange).

The Olympic bid

Spearheaded by the Bloomberg administration in 2005, the Olympic bid identified seven areas of the city that had fallen into disrepair as potential Olympic sites.

To impress the International Olympic Committee, government and private interests raced to push parcels through the city’s lengthy land use process before submitting the bid.

When the games were given to London, city officials pivoted and targeted re-zoned areas for the residential and commercial development that would come to define Bloomberg’s remaining terms.

“That’s the great story,” said Mitchell Moss, a professor of urban planning at N.Y.U. “We didn’t get the Olympics but we did better than the Olympics.”

Since then, areas around the city including Williamsburg, Downtown Brooklyn, Manhattan’s west side and Long Island City have exploded with activity.

“The fact that the west side is now being developed, the Hudson Yards project, with the subway and the boulevard, is only happening now because all of this was done 12 years ago,” said Jay Kriegel, senior advisor at The Related Companies who was involved in the Olympic effort.

The Amazon bid

In early September, Amazon set off a nationwide frenzy when it released a request for proposals for a second headquarters location in North America, stipulating a need for eight million square feet of office space and a range of other amenities. In exchange, Amazon promised to bring up to 50,000 jobs with salaries of $100,000 or more annually to the winning city. More than 100 cities committed to bid by October 19, 2017.

Here in New York City, over two dozen sites from all five boroughs were submitted for consideration to the city’s Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC). The final bid, for which full details have not been released, provided four areas, Lower Manhattan, Midtown West, Long Island City and the Brooklyn Tech Triangle, as potential campus locations and touted the city’s diverse and highly-educated workforce, cultural amenities and transportation infrastructure.

And so, for now, the wait begins. Amazon has signaled that it will narrow down the list of cities by the end of the year, but has not announced a final decision deadline. 

Making it count

Since the bid submission, real estate leaders and politicians have lauded the cooperation that took place, expressing the hope that even if it fails, this deal can lay the groundwork for future development, much like the Olympic effort.

But, unlike the Amazon bid, which had to be submitted in a mere six weeks, the Olympic plan took place over years — as did everything that followed. Plans for some of its key achievements, such as the 7-train expansion and redevelopment of Manhattan’s west side were presented hand-in-hand, and later, executed concurrently.

“The proposal was much more detailed and developed over a much longer period of time and so the blueprint that came out of that was similarly more detailed,” said Pinsky. “It provided, I think, a much more complete roadmap than will have come out of what ended up being a very short process for Amazon.”

In this sense, the Amazon plan “shows great contrast” to the Olympic bid, according to Moss, who has studied the effort and its effects throughout the city.

“The Olympics was a coherent strategy to improve transportation, recreation and housing in all five boroughs for one purpose, attracting the Olympics,” said Moss. “The Amazon bid represents a failure to make choices, they can’t choose among four developers?”

Anthony Hogrebe, a spokesperson for NYCEDC disagrees.

“One of the advantages that New York City has is that we don’t have a single central business district anymore the way many cities do,” said Hogrebe.  He added in addition to meeting the Amazon criteria, these four locations offer many amenities desirable to the workforce.

In the near-term, Hogrebe says recycling parts of the Amazon work is more straightforward than the Olympic effort.

“An important distinction with this is what we looked at here is essentially where you could create new jobs, full stop,” said Hogrebe.

The thinking is that even if the company doesn’t end up setting up shop in one of the four locations, the city can pursue similar job-creation strategies in the areas without much of a pivot — and depending on how this search goes, longer term infrastructure plans would then follow, a reverse of the Olympic model.

“We’ve already identified we could create office space, create supportive infrastructure, invest in the things like transit and open space and really continue to grow these downtown commercial hubs that are going to create jobs for New Yorkers,” said Hogrebe, referencing Long Island City and Downtown Brooklyn.

This approach also highlights some of the weaknesses in the city’s pitch to Amazon and other future tenants. Long-term the city will need to address growing cost of living for current and future workers and the lack of inter-borough transit options in Brooklyn and Queens.

“The more people who start to live and work in these areas the better the transportation is going to have to be,” said Meredith Daniels of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. “We need to expand train lines and ferry service.”

Projects like the Brooklyn Queens Connector, or the “BQX”, a streetcar that would connect Astoria to Sunset Park, could help remedy these concerns, but remain in their early stages.

Featured image by Jörg Schubert via Flickr.



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