When the developers behind Ballantyne Corporate Park heard Amazon was accepting submissions for its massive second headquarters, they decided to act quickly to put together a bid.
The plan, dubbed Amazon HQ2, will ultimately bring 50,000 jobs and about 8 million square feet of office space to the chosen city. Amazon’s public invitation for bids kicked off a massive scramble, ultimately drawing submissions from 238 cities and regions.
Working through the Charlotte Regional Partnership, which coordinated proposals throughout the region, Ballantyne executives pitched Amazon on a proposal to develop the buildings on the 535-acre corporate park campus, on land that’s now a golf course.
“This was a very unusual process,” said Ned Curran, president of Northwood Office. The world of economic development is usually hush-hush, with relocation possibilities swathed in nondisclosure agreements and code names. “We’ve always been undercover here.”
Real estate firm Northwood Investors paid about $1.2 billion to acquire the office buildings, hotels, golf course and other properties at Ballantyne Corporate Park last year, in the biggest real estate transaction in Charlotte’s history.
Curran said the new owners have been working with Boston-based planning firm Sasaki to craft a new vision for the corporate park’s long-term future – which could include transit, apartments and more – so crafting the Amazon HQ2 proposal fit well with that existing work.
“This, for us, has allowed us to think what are we going to look like in 20 years,” said Curran.
Last week, Amazon announced that Raleigh made the shortlist of 20 potential cities for HQ2, along with Nashville, Tenn., Austin, Texas, Columbus, Ohio, Indianapolis and traditional heavyweights like New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C. and Boston. Charlotte did not make the list.
The Charlotte Regional Partnership has said it won’t be releasing the individual bid submissions, or the tax incentives offered to try to lure Amazon.
Curran said he wanted to unveil Ballantyne’s proposal to give the public a sense of what the effort looked like behind the scenes. He said they put together the proposal in about a month, and didn’t have any involvement in the potential incentives offered.
Most other developers have kept their proposals under wraps, though executives at New Forum previously shared their pitch to bring Amazon to Ayrsley in Steele Creek.
The Ballantyne plan shows more than a dozen new buildings at an Amazon campus off Ballantyne Commons Parkway, backing up to Interstate 485 and Johnston Road. Northwood Office is “on the cusp of starting” a new, 300,000-square-foot speculative office building, according to the proposal, which could have been expanded to 500,000 square feet for Amazon’s initial HQ2 building, ready in 2019.
The ultimate addition of 8 million square feet of office space – Ballantyne currently includes about 4 million square feet – would add a huge amount of new density on the site. The conceptual plan preserves large blocks of green space between the buildings, which would appeal to employees, Curran said.
Curran said that any such extra density would depend on infrastructure improvements to be feasible, such as light rail, bus rapid transit and additional roads. The Amazon HQ2 conceptual plan includes dedicated roadway space for rapid transit busese, bike paths and a greenway connection.
“This can only happen with significant infrastructure investments,” he said.
Even though Charlotte didn’t make the shortlist, Curran said the process of assembling and submitting the proposal was still a positive one.
“Anybody who participated in this ended up sharpening their game because of it,” said Curran.
“Our pride is a little nicked,” said Curran. “I think the the introspection we’re going through now, when we lose, is healthy... Look at the Panthers. They lose the game, look at the film and say how can we get sharper?”