Could Amazon deliver new HQ to Chicago? Emanuel is making his pitch

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel has had several conversations with CEO Jeff Bezos about putting Amazon’s second headquarters in Chicago, according to a City Hall source. | Sun-Times file photo

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is pitching Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos about building the company’s second North American headquarters in Chicago amid speculation that the e-commerce giant may be eyeing the North Branch industrial corridor.

Competition for the $5 billion prize and as many as 50,000 jobs is certain to be intense. But Emanuel, a former White House chief of staff with a national reputation, is hoping he has the clout to bring the bonanza home.

Mayoral spokesman Grant Klinzman disclosed Thursday that Emanuel has had several conversations with Bezos about choosing Chicago for a project the company has described as a “full equal” to its sprawling Seattle headquarters.

Klinzman refused to say what, if any, city subsidies Emanuel was prepared to offer Amazon to bring the project to Chicago.

“Chicago’s unmatched workforce, world-class universities and unparalleled access to destinations throughout the world make it the perfect headquarters location for companies large and small. That’s also why Chicago has led the nation in corporate relocations for the last four years,” Klinzman wrote in an email to the Sun-Times.

Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) said Amazon is “one of the companies rumored to be interested” in the North Branch Industrial corridor.

That’s 760 acres of protected industrial land near the Chicago River that the City Council recently opened to residential and commercial use.

Hopkins said there is plenty of land available and the North Branch makes more sense than any other site because of its proximity to the Loop.

“The new workforce wants to live and work in an urban community that has everything to offer their lifestyle. It’s recent college graduates who want to live and work in campus-like environments,” Hopkins said.

Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th) is hopingEmanuel will pitch the massive South Works site to Amazon.

“We’re ten miles from the Loop. You’re right on the water. You have the rail…And the cost of living is more affordable here,” she said.

“Millennials might like the action [downtown], but we can make the action with 480 acres.”

Other possibilities in Chicago include: the Old Main Post Office; the Michael Reese Hospital site; a 62-acre South Loop parcel once owned by convicted developer Tony Rezko and the McCormick Place East site that Emanuel offered to demolish in a failed attempt to keep the Lucas Museum in Chicago.

Cities have until next month to apply through a special website, and the company said it will make a final decision next year.

It didn’t hint about where it might land, but its requirements could rule out some places: It wants to be near a metropolitan area with more than a million people; be able to attract top technical talent; be within 45 minutes of an international airport; have direct access to mass transit; and wants to be able to expand that headquarters to as much as 8 million square feet in the next decade. That’s about the same size as its current home in Seattle. Co-headquarters, though, often come about as a result of mergers.

“We want to find a city that is excited to work with us and where our customers, employees, and the community can all benefit,” the company said on its search website, about why it was choosing its second headquarters through a public process.

Bezos has crowdsourced major decisions before. In June, just before Amazon announced its plan to buy organic grocer Whole Foods, the billionaire took to Twitter seeking ideas for a philanthropic strategy to give away some of his fortune.

Amazon plans to hire 2,000 Illinois workers over the next 14 months, pushing the online retail giant’s employment statewide to 7,000, said Kathleen Carroll, who heads Amazon’s recruitment efforts.

The hiring for full-time jobs is to be spread across nine Amazon fulfillment centers, the company’s downtown corporate office, its Lake View bookstore, an AmazonFresh site and a University of Illinois-Chicago campus pickup service.

Amazon’s current campus in Seattle has 33 buildings and 24 restaurants and is home to more than 40,000 employees. At the second headquarters, Amazon said it will hire up to 50,000 new full-time employees over the next 15 years who would have an average pay of more than $100,000 a year.

Amazon’s rise has not been without critics, who say the influx of mostly well-heeled tech workers has caused housing prices to skyrocket, clogged the streets with traffic and changed Seattle for the worse.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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