Amazon HQ2 bid long on Charlotte ‘edginess,’ millennials – but short on other details

Two weeks after Charlotte officials shipped a custom-made wooden box to Amazon in Seattle, they said Thursday that the materials inside emphasized the city’s appeal to millennials, “edgy” vibe and appealing lifestyle.

But the group coordinating the bid wouldn’t give any further information on other key details in the proposal, such as how much in incentives money online retailer could get, where the sites proposed for its second headquarters are located or whether, and how, mass transit would be built to those site.

“No comment,” said Ronnie Bryant, CEO of the Charlotte Regional Partnership, when asked to outline the high and low end of the range of money Amazon could get if it picks Charlotte. “Nice try.”

Officials here will not say how much the tax incentives being offered to lure Amazon could total, unlike some other cities that have laid out their bids in detail. Chicago officials said they’re offering Amazon almost $2.3 billion, while New Jersey is dangling $7 billion worth of tax incentives to try to persuade Amazon to pick Newark, for example.

Ronnie Bryant, President and CEO of the Charlotte Regional Partnership, center, speaks at Wednesday’s Amazon HQ2 Media Event at the UNC Charlotte Center City building. Diedra Laird

But the incentives offers are likely huge, easily eclipsing the $87.5 million awarded to MetLife in 2015 for bringing more than 2,000 jobs to Charlotte and Cary, marking the largest incentives deal in state history.

Charlotte officials expect to hear by Dec. 1 whether the city is still in the running. The region’s bid included 21 sites in Mecklenburg, York, Gaston, Cabarrus, Iredell and Rowan counties for Amazon to consider for its HQ2, as the project is known. North and South Carolina officials were involved with the bid.

That’s one reason Bryant has refused to give information on the incentives, he said.

“That’s their prerogative,” he said of the offers from different local and state governments. “It’s not the Charlotte Regional Partnership’s prerogative to make it public.”

“This information is for Amazon’s eyes only,” Bryant said.

He added that he felt confident that Charlotte’s overall package is competitive. Incentives, he said, are meant to “reduce the cost of entry into the market,” but they aren’t the only consideration.

“This is not a bidding war. If that were the case, all of the other information they asked for would be irrelevant,” he added.

Bryant also said the site information belongs to the the developers and real estate brokers throughout the region. “Therefore, information about the sites belongs to them,” he said.

Other cities, such as Chicago and Boston, however, have made public where their proposed sites for Amazon’s new campus would be.

Charlotte’s custom box. Courtesy CRP

Charlotte’s proposal also included letters from influential business leaders, including Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan and former Bank of America CEO Hugh McColl Jr. In total, the CRP said 40 groups submitted letters of support.

Charlotte’s proposal also included a 5-minute video – featuring local artist Carlos Robson, spoken-word artist Boris “Bluz” Rogers and Hornets arena co-host Jacinda Jacobs – showcasing splashy scenes of Carolina Panthers games, NASCAR action, a few local craft breweries and the sparkling skyline. The video emphasizes familiar Charlotte tropes, such as being three hours from the mountains or the sea, and Charlotte Douglas International Airport’s rocking chairs.

Amazon’s search for a second headquarters set off a frantic, nationwide scramble among cities and states competing to win the 50,000 jobs and $5 billion worth of investment the online retail giant is offering. The company said it received 238 proposals from cities and regions in 54 states, provinces, districts and territories across North America.

There are plenty of reasons why Amazon would seriously consider Charlotte for the new campus, city boosters say, citing the city’s airport, quickly growing young professional population, cost of living and location.

But the reputational damage from North Carolina’s controversial House Bill 2, which limited protections for LGBT people, could give Amazon pause, experts say.

In North Carolina, Charlotte, Hickory, the Triad and the Raleigh/Durham area all submitted bids.

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo