Newly released emails from Durham officials show that the city and county could offer Amazon up to $50 million in incentives over about 24 years to land the Seattle company’s coveted second headquarters in the Triangle.
The emails, obtained by the Raleigh TV station WRAL, also describe the potential sites for the massive campus as well as officials’ concerns about how Amazon jobs could support “underserved” communities. The correspondence highlights how far one North Carolina region is willing to go to land the $5 billion project, which Amazon says could create up to 50,000 high-paying jobs.
But Charlotte officials still won’t say how much taxpayer money the city is willing to offer Amazon, nor where the 21 potential sites are for the campus. Citing an exemption in the state public records statute, a city spokeswoman said releasing the records would “frustrate the process” and put Charlotte “at a competitive disadvantage.”
Though the cities are bound by the same state law, the majority of the exemptions to records laws are entirely discretionary, according to Jonathan Jones, director of the Sunshine Center of the North Carolina Open Government Coalition at Elon University.
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“If the city of Charlotte decides that citizens are concerned and they want to answer that concern and share with them what they’ve offered, they can do that,” Jones said.
The Charlotte Regional Partnership, which submitted Charlotte’s proposal, last week offered few details about the bid, which they said emphasized the city’s millennial draw and “edgy vibe.” But the group didn’t disclose specifics about incentives or potential sites.
Any area hoping to land Amazon would likely offer a combination of incentives from the city, county and state, all based on Amazon’s hiring goals. The Triangle’s proposal doesn’t include a specific dollar figure “because the company hasn’t provided a lot of detail yet,” Durham City Manager Tom Bonfield told WRAL.
The Durham emails show that Amazon’s size requirements for the second headquarters (up to 8 million square feet) eliminated the only potential site in Durham’s city limits – the GoTriangle transit station along U.S. Highway 15/501 and Interstate 40, WRAL noted.
Amazon put out its public request for proposals for the project in September, and four North Carolina areas – Charlotte, Hickory, the Triangle and the Triad – were among the 238 locations that submitted their bids last month.
Officials elsewhere have disclosed the eye-popping incentives deals they’re willing to offer Amazon – $7 billion in Newark, New Jersey, and at least $2 billion in Chicago, for instance.
The N.C. Commerce Department, which has said it would equally support proposals from any of the bidding cities, cited the same exemption in the state public records law. Spokeswoman Beth Gargan said negotiations over incentives will continue until Amazon announces next year which location it has selected.
Given how public the whole process has been for cities courting Amazon, Jones said he doesn’t see how disclosure of incentives figures could put the state at a competitive disadvantage.
“Any time information like this is withheld, I find it problematic,” he said. “The whole economic development process has been shrouded in secrecy in a way that I don’t think is particularly healthy for our democracy.”