State Spurns 2-City Amazon Bid

Bruce Oren IllustrationAmazon needs 8.1 million square feet for its new headquarters. New Haven can find only 4 million.


That didn’t stop New Haven from joining cities throughout North America in a mad race to land the Seattle-based online retail giant’s planned $5 billion second campus (aka “HQ2”) along with its “50,000 high-paying jobs” (averaging over $100,000 a year each in compensation). The company also predicts in its request for proposals that the winning city will reap “tens of thousands of additional jobs and tens of billions of dollars in additional investment in the surrounding community.” (Click here to read the full request.)

With no illusions about our chances, the city’s economic development team has been giving it the old college-town try in response to a request by the state to put together a pitch. New Haven teamed up with Bridgeport to make a joint proposal.

The state Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) asked communities throughout the state to prepare proposals to forward to Amazon. The state plans to pick one to then champion and submit it by Amazon’s Oct. 19 deadline.

“We received 17 submissions and are making progress in the selection process, but we are not providing any additional details at this time,” reported DECD spokesman Jim Watson.

Watson didn’t tell the whole story. DECD has apparently eliminated some proposals in a first cut. One of those was New Haven’s and Bridgeport’s proposal. The two New Haven leaders helping to quarterback the proposal, city economic development chief Matthew Nemerson and Virginia Kozlowski, executive director of the quasi-public regional REX economic development arm, told the Independent that they learned Monday about not making the cut.

They and other regional business and government leaders have been convening this week to decide whether to hone and pursue the pitch to Amazon directly, only their own.

Nemerson had a meeting scheduled Friday with his counterpart in Bridgeport to start moving ahead, he said Thursday night. “The message I got from the mayor” is to press ahead, he said. He suggested that a joint New Haven-Bridgeport Amazon campus, linked by rapid bus transit, would give Amazon founder Jeff Bezos the chance to “turn around the fortunes of two post-industrial cities” in “one fell swoop.” He said “the message I got from the mayor” is to press ahead.

From the start, Amazon’s terms has presented a steep climb for New Haven. For instance, New Haven can’t deliver an international airport (Tweed doesn’t count) within 45 miles. Maybe Amazon wouldn’t count the few extra miles it takes to reach Bradley? (The company’s request does say “approximately” 45 miles.) There’s still a problem, though: You can’t fly directly from Bradley to Seattle.

And about that need for 8.1 million square feet for the campus?

New Haven was able to come up with 4 million square feet it could probably gain control over during the next four to six years, on and around the filling-in Route 34 Connector mini-highway ending at the 100 College Street Alexion tower, according to Nemerson. The city would start with the land right near Alexion, then expand to property in the Hill-to-Downtown corridor as well as on the other side of Route 34, down to State Street.

“Eight million square feet is a lot of space,” Nemerson said. “That’s basically 20 Connecticut Financial Centers,” or eight Alexion towers.

Even the four million square feet New Haven identified would not be immediately available, Nemerson said.

But Bridgeport has land, too, 21 miles down I-95.

That’s why New Haven had decided to partner with the Park City to present the joint proposal. The two cities worked on the proposal along with two regional quasi-public economic development organizations, REX (part of the South Central Regional Council of Governments) and the Bridgeport Regional Business Council. The regional Chamber of Commerce, among other groups, also participated.

Call the new “city” Bridgehaven. (Well, the people putting together the proposal don’t call it that. That’s just our suggestion.) And carve suburban towns like Fairfield into the mix, as an official there suggested in this CT Post article.

REX’s Kozlowski noted that Amazon’s current campus has 30 buildings spread out over miles. Other parts of the country incorporate communities within broader city limits, while Connecticut carves up a small state into 169 separate municipalities. Many of the 19 suburbs in the Greater New Haven and Bridgeport areas would be within city limits elsewhere in the U.S.

Combining the two metro areas also gets the proposal over the 1 million-population mark required by Amazon. It enables Bridgehaven to boost a long list of universities and a far bigger pool of tech employees. On the other hand two major employers, GE and Alexion, have decided to relocate headquarters from Fairfield and New Haven for Boston in part, they claimed, to be closer to a bigger tech and academic cluster.

“We encourage cities to think big and be creative,” Amazon declared.

Whatever happens with this proposal, both regions are in a better position now to attract jobs, Kozlowski said Thursday.

“Even if we decide not to submit to Amazon, this prepares us to move on other proposals” from employers looking to locate here, she argued. “We’re not in a very compact area. But we can leverage when we work together.” She said the planning process is a first step to having Greater New Haven and Greater Bridgeport combine their strengths and think more broadly as a region. It also can help “change the narrative” about how “businesses are leaving” when in fact lots of businesses are locating here, she said.

Nemerson mentioned the city’s Amazon pitch in passing at an Board of Alders committee hearing this week, but the city has not particularly talked it up. It hasn’t manned war rooms or launched public campaigns or Tweeted videos to Jeff Bezos the way leaders of other cities throughout North America have done in the frenzy to win Amazon’s heart. Click on the above video to see Danbury’s offering, in which Mayor Mark Boughton enlists the support of Alexa. (The Independent has contributed a postcard, shown at the top of this story.)

Bridgeport’s planning department took the lead on preparing the joint proposal with New Haven. Bridgeport government spokeswoman Rowena White called it “premature” to release the proposal. “The group is not disseminating or sharing preliminary presentations yet as it is still a work in progress and on its way to being finalized as a collaborative submission,” she said.

In its message to suitors, Amazon is also demanding that the winning city have “a stable and business-friendly environment.” As well as, by the way, strong mass transit.

You can barely catch a bus to get you where you need to go in and around New Haven, let alone down to Bridgeport, without giving up much of your day. And light rail’s not even a fantasy here anymore.

We do “have heavy rail,” Nemerson noted. “So that’s pretty good.”

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posted by: LookOut on September 29, 2017  7:37am

let’s be serious, with CT’s business climate, the chance of landing this anywhere in the state is almost zero.  (if you were running a business, would you invest in a state that can’t even create a budget?)

posted by: steve on September 29, 2017  7:39am

Connecticut is a small minor league state and from the past exodus of some large companies, the state has shown itself unable to meet the needs of business. There are many more cities in other states that are larger and have a better attitude towards businesses.

posted by: LorcaNotOrca on September 29, 2017  8:18am

That last paragraph really is the kicker, isn’t it?  SAD!

posted by: EPDP on September 29, 2017  9:10am

“Bridgehaven” sounds like PR stunt for Paul Bass and the Mayors of Bridgeport and New Haven. Amazon is looking for a city with at least a million people.  San Francisco,  Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, Portland OR, and many other real cities are competing for Amazon.  The business news media doesn’t even mention Bridgeport-New Haven as being in the running.  Why are the pencil pushers in the Bridgeport and New Haven City Hall cubicles wasting their time, and taxpayer dollars, with such stupidity?  These white collar robots would be put to better use with shovels filling in the potholes.

posted by: BetweenTwoRocks on September 29, 2017  9:35am

I’m definitely all for giving it a shot, but let’s not devote too many resources to this pie-in-the-sky attempt. They are going to want to move to a large city with tons of tech talent. New Haven has a lot of biomedical talent, but not nearly enough programmers to be an attractive home to Amazon. I suspect it will probably end up being a city like Austin or Atlanta, somewhere in the South, with a huge hotbed of young IT talent as well as low taxes and regulations. NYC or Boston is attractive, but no idea where they’d find that kind of space.

posted by: Colin Ryan on September 29, 2017  10:06am

Echoing the other commenters - please, city officials, don’t spend any more time on this. We all love New Haven but this project isn’t the right fit for us.

posted by: Peter99 on September 29, 2017  10:36am

This project, if granted to the city, should fully complete the gentrification of New Haven.

posted by: OutofTown on September 29, 2017  10:49am

If New Haven needs land to build in New Haven, with some zoning help, it could add 8 million square feet in the Long Wharf area by acquiring land associated with the underdeveloped 1) Long Wharf Food Terminal, 2) Sportshaven/Winners, 3) Post Office site, and 4) surrounding land.  That would give Amazon highway access, water views, Port Authority access, attractive sites, good neighbors, and a realistic chance at an urban TOD environment.

posted by: __quinnchionn__ on September 29, 2017  11:39am

A city that has less than 200,000 people with lesser amounts of transportation or certain others things that major cities tend to offer could be a problem for smaller cities like New Haven and Bridgeport to attract large companies. Unfortunately, New Haven doesn’t have a big airport, light rail transit or even a Subway system for that matter. The bus system is slowly improving but then again it could be a lot better than how it is currently. Besides that, the train seems to be doing great, it seems to be convenient for people who leaves and go to places like NY, Philly or DC. It is basically unfair to think that New Haven can compete with cities like Boston, San Francisco, Seattle or even Los Angeles when clearly those cities are more attractive for companies that are big like Amazon.

posted by: GrimLynn on September 29, 2017  11:48am

@OutofTown has got a point. As for me, in a world where there’s President Trump, I never say never any more.

posted by: wendy1 on September 29, 2017  2:06pm

Amazon pays slave wages and works you like a Nazi labor camp.  Read Nomadland by Bruder.

No med. care, no benefits, no overtime, just 12 shifts of sheer Hell.

posted by: RobotShlomo on September 29, 2017  9:08pm

The “old college try”? More like the old community college try.

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on September 30, 2017  7:12am

New Haven has a population that is two-thirds and an area one-third that of Staten Island. It does not come close to meeting Amazon’s criteria.

Going to Outoftown’s point, New Haven’s waterfront has a lot of unrealized potential. I’m from Chicago, where virtually all of the lakefront is parkland, and people understand the economic value of water views. This awareness has grown in New York and Boston in recent decades; hopefully the same thing is beginning to happen here.

posted by: JCFremont on September 30, 2017  9:28am

Come to New Haven? A town that doesn’t like “Big Box” stores like Trailblazers and LL Bean is going to love Amazon? We have an airport but don’t really want to use it. We have a port but I’m sure the amount of truck traffic or even using the freight train rails that could increase will be met with cries of environmental apocalypse. Though no real fan of Amazon or it’s leader Jeff “The Great Gazu” Bezo. (Flintstone reference, come on there is a resemblance.)I feel our great local university may have given his business plan the same grade they gave Fred Smith’s Fed Ex paper. So Bridgeport I’m sure will have a better chance, a better partnership would be with Stratford, they have a bigger airport.

posted by: OhHum on September 30, 2017  10:09am

Name the new city “Nohaven” and move on to more important things. There’s about as much chance as Amazon moving to the combined cities as Yale combining with the University of Bridgeport.

posted by: steve on October 1, 2017  7:01am

To JCFremont,  your quote, “a better partnership would be with Stratford, they have a bigger airport.” Not true. The Sikorsky airport has short runways and being land locked, they are unable to extend them. The planes that provided airline service there years ago have been retired. Tweed New Haven airports runway is 900 feet longer than Sikorsky’s and is planning to extend them pending the ongoing court case. 
Amazon needs a major city and none are to be found in Connecticut.

posted by: EarlyBird on October 1, 2017  11:08am

EPDP for the win.

posted by: JCFremont on October 3, 2017  6:45am

@Steve, Thank you for the information about the runways, what I was looking at was the amount of commercial space availability and the easier access to I-95. I read recently a judge ruled against Tweeds runway expansion plans, which they are appealing.  Judge shopping seems to be how are republic is run anyway so we’ll see. Without expansion I’m sure that will give American Airlines one more reason to end service and any other major airline will think much harder at coming into Tweed.  Maybe Sikorsky can be used as a Drone launching and landing area?

@Hohum, “No Haven” Love it, does describe New Haven to a tee these days.