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Amazon in Detroit? ‘Multiple footprint’ proposal could span city, region

Detroit Free Press

Katrease Stafford and Rochelle Riley

Sept. 8, 2017

A team of Detroit leaders spanning government and commerce is creating a proposal to lure Amazon that would offer the retail online giant multiple campuses across the region, possibly including the riverfront.

Detroit Regional Chamber CEO Sandy Baruah confirmed in an interview with the Free Press that the city, chamber and Michigan Economic Development Corp. are working on a plan that likely will include real estate titan Dan Gilbert and other key individuals.

“We’re reaching out to the people with a significant amount of space available. Obviously Dan Gilbert is one of those people,” Baruah said, also mentioning the Ilitch family. “… The official effort resides with the MEDC, us and City of Detroit. … We are coordinating the response to Amazon as we speak.

“This is our region coming together to present the best of what southeast Michigan has to offer. Detroit is our signature city but at the end of the day … ,” he said. “If it lands in the city of Detroit or a close suburb, it’s a win for all of us.”

The confirmation from Detroit comes a day after Gilbert announced he had amassed a team to woo Amazon to Detroit. Gilbert could not be reached to determine the level of collaboration between the two groups.

Gilbert said in a statement Thursday that he had already began to put together “a task force of internal and external people here in Detroit to fully explore the opportunity of Amazon’s HQ2.”

“We are very excited, and we believe that Detroit will make an extremely strong pitch to Amazon,” Gilbert said in a statement released Thursday.

While Baruah didn’t give specific details about the planned proposal, he said he doesn’t believe it would consist of just one building or one central location.

“When you look at their footprint in the Seattle area, they don’t have one building; they have I think 33,” Baruah said. “… We don’t anticipate one 10-million-square-foot building. We’re anticipating multiple footprints around the city and region.”

When considering Amazon’s needs, Baruah said, it not only includes technology but logistics, development space, executive offices and even drones.

“All of those different kinds of things require different spaces,” Baruah said, even mentioning the American Center for Mobility, a testing facility for driverless automobiles in Ypsilanti Township. “You can see everything from downtown office space to significant loft and warehouse space. … You can see riverfront, new riverfront developments for different types of campuses … You can think of all those different types of venues.”

Councilwoman Mary Sheffield told the Free Press she had not spoken to Gilbert about Amazon yet, but someone reached out to her office to set up a meeting.

“I think it’s great,” she said. ” … I have not had a conversation with him as of yet, but I do think someone reached out to our office to set up a meeting so we’ll probably follow up next week. … We just passed a personal property exemption for Microsoft moving to Detroit. If Microsoft comes … and 212 employees come downtown, to have Amazon and Microsoft would be pretty big.”

When asked where Amazon could locate if it chose Detroit, Sheffield, who represents District 5 that encompasses much of downtown, said there are many options.

“I mean, there’s vacant land all over,” Sheffield said. “I’m sure District 5, maybe District 3 are good possible potential places. But I’m not sure.”

Sheffield’s district includes the riverfront. District 3 Councilman Scott Benson said he had not been contacted about the Amazon bid.

The Seattle-based tech and online retail giant founded and run by billionaire Jeff Bezos announced the plan Thursday, giving states, metropolitan areas and provinces through Oct. 19 to deliver proposals for the $5-billion project. The company expects to announce a decision on HQ2 in 2018.

Hours after Amazon’s announcement, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s office told the Free Press the city is carefully evaluating the retailer’s request for proposals.

” … As to Amazon’s announcement that it is seeking proposals for a second headquarters, our only comment at this time is that we will be evaluating it carefully,” said John Roach, Duggan’s spokesman.

Roach declined to comment further Friday. The Michigan Economic Development Corp. did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

In its request for proposals, Amazon said it wanted an urban or suburban area with more than 1 million people, shovel-ready real estate, quality of life and a “stable and business-friendly environment.”

The company is also encouraging interested communities to think “big” and “creatively” about possible locations.

Amazon said HQ2 will be a complete headquarters for Amazon, not a satellite office, and it expects to hire new teams and executives for HQ2.

Amazon is also willing to consider greenfield sites, infill sites, existing buildings or a combination for the project, according to the RFP.

Tax incentives offered by state or local communities to offset costs will be significant factors in the decision.

Baruah said he believes Detroit is well-positioned to compete for the project.

“This would be another strong element of the revival of the state of Michigan and the city of Detroit,” Baruah said. “We’re a global logistics hub. Amazon doesn’t just do business in the U.S. … We’re a global epicenter. You just read last week about how Amazon is expanding into Canada. Detroit is an excellent location for that.”

Baruah acknowledged that Detroit is facing one challenge since the region lacks a mass transit option, which was one stipulation sought by Amazon.

Yet, he said, that’s a shortcoming the city can overcome, considering everything else it has to offer.

“There’s no city that’s perfect,” Baruah said. “Based on what we know of Amazon’s criteria, certainly the one thing that worries me just a little bit is the public transit system. … That’s obviously something that we are challenged with here in Michigan.  Every region is not going to meet every wish list item.”