Secret’s out: Amazon team to visit Chicago next week amid cloak-and-dagger preps

SHARE Secret’s out: Amazon team to visit Chicago next week amid cloak-and-dagger preps

Mayor Rahm Emanuel toured the Amazon offices in Chicago with general manager Samantha Singer and Sen. Dick Durbin in July. File Photo. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Amid cloak-and-dagger secrecy, the Amazon team charged with evaluating 20 finalists for the company’s second North American headquarters will arrive in Chicago next week to get a first-hand look at at least three of the sites the city has offered.

Sources said the preliminary itinerary calls for Amazon to visit: the Lincoln Yards site that includes the old Finkl Steel plant among 100 acres along the Chicago River; the 78, a 62-acre site at Roosevelt and Clark once owned by convicted felon Tony Rezko where Gov. Bruce Rauner dreams of building an innovation center led by the University of Illinois; and the fast-growing and transformed Fulton Market District.

Other sites could be added.

“Amazon wants to do this on a very confidential basis. Everybody is under strict non-disclosure. So, I really can’t talk about it,” said Deputy Mayor Bob Rivkin, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s point-man in the Amazon sweepstakes.

“When they come, we’re gonna show them what an incredibly strong candidate city Chicago is for everything they need. We have scale. We have talent. We have transportation. We have great quality of life and employees. You can’t fail to see that and feel that when you come visit. So, we’re looking forward to it, but I can’t comment on anything else because we’re under a non-disclosure agreement.”

Rivkin was asked to describe the itinerary and how many of the ten sites Chicago has offered he expects Amazon to want to see first-hand.

“What about, ‘I can’t talk about it’ don’t you understand?” he said.

Emanuel and Rauner have joined forces on a $2.25 billion bid for Amazon’s second North American headquarters that includes ten sites.

In addition to the top three, they include: a Downtown Gateway District that includes Willis Tower and the Old Main Post Office; a River District where Tribune Media wants to build 15 office and residential towers; the Burnham Lakefront that includes the old Michael Reese Hospital site; the Illinois Medical District and a City Center campus that includes the Thompson Center.

Suburban sites include the Oakbrook headquarters of McDonald’s and the former Motorola Solutions campus in Schaumburg.

As Chicago awaits its turn under the microscope, handicapping the Amazon sweepstakes has become something of a parlor game.

If you were placing a bet, you’d have to give the Washington, D.C. area the edge.

The area landed three sites on Amazon’s short-list—Washington D.C., Northern Virginia and Montgomery County, Md.

Amazon’s billionaire founder and CEO Jeff Bezos is putting down roots in Washington D.C. Five years after purchasing the Washington Post, Bezos recently plunked down $23 million in cash for Washington’s former Textile Museum with the intention of converting the 27,000 square foot building into a single-family home.

Holly Sears Sullivan, the head of worldwide economic development at Amazon Public Policy, is the former president of the Montgomery Business Development Corporation. Sullivan was quoted prominently in Amazon’s news release announcing the first cut.

And Amazon’s site selection team chose the D.C. area to visit first, having breakfast with Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and dinner with D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser.

The D.C. area got yet another assist, courtesy of the Georgia Legislature.

Georgia lawmakers dealt Atlanta’s otherwise strong bid a serious blow by eliminating a tax exemption for Delta Airlines in retaliation for the airlines’ decision to stop offering discounts to members of the National Rifle Association and passed another bill that threatens to make it more difficult for same-sex couples to adopt children or become foster parents.

Those policies don’t sit well with the socially-liberal Bezos and don’t jibe with the progressive corporate culture he has created at Amazon.

Amazon has cautioned the 20 finalists not to read anything into the order of the site visits or into the many attempts to handicap the Amazon sweepstakes.

“Amazon is working with each HQ2 candidate city to dive deeper on their proposals and share additional information about the company’s plans. We’re excited to visit each location and talk about how HQ2 could benefit our employees and the local community,” the company has said in a statement.

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