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Emails show one prominent developer’s plan to help Charlotte win Amazon’s HQ2

In this photo taken Oct. 11, 2017, large spheres take shape in front of an existing Amazon building and adjacent to a small dog park provided by the company, in Seattle.
In this photo taken Oct. 11, 2017, large spheres take shape in front of an existing Amazon building and adjacent to a small dog park provided by the company, in Seattle. AP

Daniel Levine woke up, as he always does, before dawn on Sept. 7, had his tea and read the news. One story in the Wall Street Journal caught the Charlotte developer’s attention: Amazon.com said it was looking for a second headquarters location.

Before cities nationwide began their frenzied talks to submit bids to land the $5 billion project, Levine, a Charlotte native and president of Levine Properties, thought of a plan to help his hometown win. At 7:44 a.m., Levine sent an email to Mecklenburg County officials with his idea.

“BIG IDEA! How about Mecklenburg County, Levine Properties and the City come together with (Bank of America)/Wells (Fargo) to make a pitch for North Tryon to become the best site in the USA for Amazon’s HQ2?” Levine wrote to county manager Dena Diorio and her assistant, Dennis LaCaria, according to emails the Observer obtained via a public records request.

“If you have seen what Amazon has done for Seattle this could be the catalyst that changes everything for our region. I am open to pursuing this with single minded focus. Thoughts?”

LaCaria emailed Diorio about Levine’s plan 12 minutes later: “How do you propose we start the conversation...?” The records do not indicate any county response to the developer.

Levine’s early exuberance for the project is an example of how Amazon’s search process has sent shock waves through development communities across the country. The tech giant has said its second campus will have up to 33 buildings and about 8.1 million square feet of office space – nearly twice as much as what’s in Ballantyne Corporate Park.

Levine owns nearly 20 acres in First Ward, including large swaths of land along North Tryon Street between Six and Ninth streets. The area, Levine told the Observer Friday, would be perfect for a project like Amazon’s.

Quoting retired hockey star Wayne Gretzky, Levine said the area is ripe for redevelopment: “You gotta go where the puck is going, not where it’s been.”

Levine is familiar with Seattle. He said North Tryon is similar to the Washington city’s South Lake Union area, where Amazon has its headquarters.

North Tryon would fit nearly all of the criteria Amazon laid out in its request for proposals, he added.

“Mass transit, an urban setting, a ready workforce. I’m not so egocentric that I’d say it is the best or the only, but from what I know, North Tryon can be molded beautifully into an area that represents Amazon,” Levine said.

Ultimately, Levine wasn’t involved in putting together Charlotte’s proposal. But Levine said he’d be surprised if North Tryon wasn’t included as a potential site for the city.

“I’m very committed to what’s in Charlotte’s best interest,” he said. “My opinion is that Charlotte represents a community that can help Amazon accomplish their next wave of growth.”

Katherine Peralta: 704-358-5079, @katieperalta

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