Could political resistance to, what critics denounce as “corporate welfare” in New York create an opening for Chicago to re-enter the Amazon sweepstakes?
Mayoral candidate Toni Preckwinkle sure hopes so. And so do Gov. J.B. Pritzker and retiring Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
On Friday, the Emanuel administration reached out to Amazon after the Washington Post, which is owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, reported that the company was reconsidering its decision to locate half of its second world headquarters in New York because of political resistance to the state’s $2.8 billion incentive package.
“Chicago has a lot to offer, and Mayor Emanuel will continue his efforts to recruit companies to Chicago until his last day on the 5th Floor in City Hall, and probably for long after that,” the mayor’s office said in statement that was careful not to mention Amazon.
Another City Hall source added, “Seems clear real friction in New York. Multiple parties reached out to Amazon to make sure that they know Chicago would still want them. Don’t know if they are actually thinking of leaving New York.”
Preckwinkle issued her own statement saying she supports Pritzker’s efforts to encourage Amazon to “reconsider Chicago, including South Side locations” for the 25,000-job prize known as “HQ2.”
“Chicago was initially considered for Amazon’s new headquarters and the economic opportunity is certainly welcome here,” Preckwinkle was quoted as saying.
“Structured in the right way, this type of development would bring tens of thousands of good-paying jobs to the South Side and provide an influx of new economic activity into some of Chicago’s most disinvested neighborhoods.”
Preckwinkle did not identify the “South Side locations” she was pitching. But the only South Side site to which the Amazon team returned for multiple site visits was the South Loop mega-site known as “the 78.”
Earlier this week, the Zoning Board of Appeals ignored the burgeoning City Hall corruption scandal starring FBI mole Ald. Danny Solis (25th) and signed off on that $7 billion South Loop development and created a new tax-increment financing district to bankroll infrastructure improvements needed to unlock the development potential of the long-dormant site at Roosevelt and Clark.
In mid-November, Amazon made official the disappointing news Chicago had known for a week.
No one city will be home to Amazon’s second North American headquarters.
Instead, the economic development plum of the century known as HQ2 — with a $5 billion investment and 50,000, six-figure jobs — would be divided between Crystal City, Va. and the Long Island City neighborhood of Queens, N.Y.
After receiving the bad news, Emanuel acknowledged that subsidies were at least a part of the reason why Chicago lost the Amazon sweepstakes. But the mayor said he was “not sorry at all” that the city and state didn’t go higher than $2.25 billion.
Emanuel and now former Gov. Bruce Rauner had joined forces on a $2.25 billion incentive package aimed at luring Amazon and offered up ten sites in an around the downtown area.
Several of them, including “the 78”, enticed Amazon enough to get two site visits.
After promising an “all hands-on-desk, all-resources-to-bear” bid for the Amazon prize, Emanuel also put together a cheerleading squad comprised of 600 movers-and-shakers with hardly a civic or religious leader or a big name in business, finance, technology, education and the arts not included.
None of that was enough.
At the time, Emanuel said he knew why Amazon made the decision it did, but he wasn’t about to disclose it for fear of alienating Amazon and losing any chance to build on the footprint the retailing behemoth already has in Chicago.