Emanuel says city-state pitch for Amazon HQ2 is ‘all hands on deck’

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Chicago’s Old Main Post Office could provide an ideal branding opportunity for Amazon’s second North American corporate headquarters. The above is a Sun-Times photo illustration of how “wrapping” the building with an Amazon logo might look. Chicago will compete with other cities to try to land the facility and its tens of thousands of jobs. | Sun-Times illustration using photo by Tim Boyle/Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Thursday made the case for Chicago to win the heated competition for Amazon’s second North American headquarters and said he plans to join forces with Gov. Bruce Rauner in an “all hands-on-deck, all-resources-to-bear” bid.

“It’s gonna be Chicago, county and state with one voice and all of the resources, all hands on deck and all creativity to that effort,” the mayor said after speaking at the launch of the 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennial at the Cultural Center.

“We’re gonna…have the state participate and the county participate in making sure that we [approach this] as a team. Rule One: All hands on deck, all resources applied….to make sure that we have a winning proposal.”

The sheer size of the project and the must-haves in Amazon’s “request for proposals” limit the choices to only a handful of Chicago sites.

The Chicago Sun-Times has zeroed in on six possibilities: the old main Post Office straddling Congress Parkway; two in the North Branch Industrial Corridor; the Michael Reese Hospital site; the 62-acre site in the South Loop once owned by convicted felon Tony Rezko; and a site in the Illinois Medical Center District at Roosevelt Road and Ogden Avenue, near the University of Illinois-Chicago, Stroger Hospital, the V.A. Hospital and Rush University Medical Center.

Emanuel refused to talk about any of those sites or a handful of others that would satisfy Amazon’s demands: For eight million square feet within 45 minutes of an international airport that could ultimately house up to 50,000 employees.

“I don’t want to pick favorites about sites. That’s for them to pick. … My priority is the site of Chicago,” the mayor said.

“The good news for us is, you actually identified a number of sites. If you’re very interested in a vertical area, that’s possible. If you’re interested in more of a horizontal, that’s possible all within the limits or boundaries … of a Central Business District … We’re not like any other city limited to maybe only one choice…We have a multitude of sites based on the perspective of what they want when they say `Amazon in 2030.’”

Emanuel is not a fan of what critics call “corporate welfare,” which is why he demanded that the Cubs renovate Wrigley Field and develop the land around it without a taxpayer subsidy. That’s even though the city made huge concessions to the billionaire Ricketts family that owns the Cubs on signs, sidewalks and additional night games.

But the mayor is well aware that an incentive package will be essential if Chicago hopes to win the heated competition for the economic development prize of the century.

Thursday, the mayor argued that Chicago leads the pack — even before incentives are factored in — when it comes to the criteria Amazon is looking for.

“We’ve been the No. 1 city for corporate relocations. Why? Because companies in a period of tremendous uncertainty are looking for who will have the talent and the certainty around that talent for the next 20 years,” Emanuel said.

“Who will have the transportation system — both public and aviation — that will give them the capacity to get anywhere in the world and get their workers to work conveniently? Who will have the type of technology and innovation to make that happen? Their RFP is very similar to the very focus we have brought to bear.”

Sounding like a cheerleader, Emanuel was only getting started.

“We have the universities. We have the aviation system. The public transportation system. The lowest cost of living of the 10 major cities in the United States. And the cultural diversity that would say to them, `Why Chicago?’ on every score that they’re looking for,” he said.

Emanuel has been aggressive and highly successful in winning a parade of corporate headquarters to downtown Chicago. Amazon’s 50,000 jobs would make all of those projects look like small potatoes.

CEO Jeff Bezos has described the $5 billion project as a “full equal” to Amazon’s sprawling Seattle headquarters. That would be the motherlode for any politician, no less a governor embroiled in a heated re-election campaign and a mayor contemplating a third term.

But, the overriding question will be whether Rauner and Emanuel, former friends who’ve been each other’s throats, can join forces on a competitive package that offers Amazon what matters more than city and state subsidies: a stable political climate that provides a good place to run a business.

On Thursday, Emanuel was asked whether Rauner, who has spent more than two years denigrating Chicago and campaigning for a turnaround agenda he didn’t get, can abruptly change gears and be believed.

“You asked me to answer a question for the governor that you should be asking him,” the mayor said, laughing.

“My view is let’s be focused on our strengths.”

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