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Pittsburgh Among Top 20 Amazon HQ2 Finalists

Richard Drew
In this Tuesday, May 30, 2017, file photo, the Amazon logo is displayed at the Nasdaq MarketSite in New York's Times Square.

Amazon announced Thursday that Pittsburgh is among a list of 20 finalists for the tech company's second headquarters.

The Seattle-based company has said the new headquarters will bring 50,000 jobs and $5 billion to the selected community. A total of 238 cities submitted applications.

“[Adding] 50,000 jobs means schools can reopen, it means we have money to shovel snow, it means we have more police,” Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said at a press conference Thursday. “It means we have neighborhoods that have seen no development in fifty years seeing opportunities for the first time.”

In a statement, Governor Tom Wolf said Pennsylvania is not a surprising choice for Amazon, given the state’s educational assets, location and workforce. “Both Pittsburgh and Philadelphia have a real shot and we will continue to support these locations by making the case to Amazon that Pennsylvania is a unique and tremendous place to build a business, make a home, and pursue your happiness.”

Shortly after the company kicked off a nationwide search for a second home in September, the Pittsburgh region formed HQ2PGH, a group of government, nonprofit, business and university stakeholders, to put together a pitch. The group issued its own request for proposals, looking for possible sites to meet Amazon's preferences: about 500,000 square feet of space now, and up to 8 million in the future; proximity to a population center and an airport; and access to mass transit.

Twenty property owners and developers from across the 10-county region submitted expressions of interest to PGH2Q. It's unclear where Amazon's headquarters would be, if the Steel City was selected. One possible location is the former SCI Pittsburgh prison, which sits on 24 acres on the North Side. Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said redevelopment of the site had been paused. Other possible locations include the former brownfield, Hazelwood Greens and land around the former Civic Arena in the Lower Hill District. 

Local company Maya was hired for $248,000 to consult on the bid.

But whether HQ2 benefits the region depends on several factors, said Elaine Luther, a business management professor at Point Park University. One of those considerations is what tax breaks were offered to the company.

“I think that we almost have to rethink giving giveaways to businesses, because they just got a big giveaway from us in the form of a significant tax cut,” she said.  

Luther is referring to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, which cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent.

The allure of an influx of new jobs and investment kicked off a competition among municipalities nationwide to offer sweeter and sweeter tax incentives to Amazon. Before submitting the region’s proposal, local officials said they weren’t willing to give away the farm to attract the Seattle-based company, instead seeking a middle ground in which both parties benefit. 

Local officials declined to provide details about the kinds of incentives they offered to Amazon and to specify possible HQ2 sites, since the proposal won't be released to the public due to non-disclosure agreements with private developers

Peduto said the city has not met with community leaders yet about making potential development beneficial for all. However, he said that equity will be a focus if a partnership with Amazon is reached.

“Whether that’s in public transit or affordable housing, which has been the challenge in Seattle,” he said. “We’ll see what initiatives can be put in place to be able to do that.”

The other finalist locations include Atlanta; Austin, Tex.; Boston; Chicago; Columbus, Ohio; Dallas; Denver; Indianapolis; Los Angeles; Miami; Montgomery County, Md.; Nashville; Newark; New York; Northern Virginia; Philadelphia; Raleigh, N.C.;  Toronto; Washington, D.C.

Peduto and other city officials said they’re unsure what the timeline is for next steps is at the moment. However, they anticipate Amazon will do a site visit.

In the coming months, Amazon will work with each of the candidate locations to dive deeper into their proposals, request additional information as necessary, and evaluate the feasibility of a future partnership that can accommodate our hiring plans as well as benefit our employees and the local community. The company expects to make a decision in 2018. 

*UPDATED: This story was updated at 3:04 p.m. on Jan. 18, 2018. 

Patrick Doyle oversees WESA's digital strategy and products. Previously, he served as WESA's news director. Email: