As local officials wondered what went wrong with Charlotte’s failed bid for Amazon’s second headquarters, some also began saying on Thursday that they — and the public — should be able to see what was in the bid itself.
Charlotte’s bid was compiled and submitted by the Charlotte Regional Partnership, an organization that isn’t subject to the state’s open records laws, even though it receives about half of its budget from taxpayers.
It’s unclear whether the full bid will ever be made public – and whether Charlotteans will learn how much taxpayer money the region was offering to lure Amazon. Some local officials said Thursday the bid should be revealed.
Republican Mecklenburg County Commissioner Bill James said the public should be able to read the bid. Julie Eiselt, the Democratic mayor pro tem of Charlotte, agreed.
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“I think we need a full debrief,” Eiselt said.
Mecklenburg County and the city of Charlotte each gave the partnership $155,00 this year. The partnership’s total revenue was about $2 million in 2015, according to federal tax records.
Charlotte City Council member Tariq Bokhari said the failed Amazon bid is a chance for Charlotte to examine how it recruits companies. He followed the bid closely and led an effort called the Hivestorm to generate buzz for Amazon HQ2.
“We need to look at our process,” said Bokhari, a Republican. “Did we engage all the right top minds to look at this?”
Amazon’s public search for a second headquarters city has been unusually open by the standards of the hush-hush world of economic development, where companies typically try to keep all mention of a relocation or expansion out of the news until they’re ready to announce.
But the leaders in charge of Charlotte’s bid have been quiet about the most important details of the region’s proposal: Where the sites they offered Amazon are located and how much tax incentive money Amazon could get.
Two weeks after the Charlotte Regional Partnership shipped a custom-made wooden box with the region’s bid to Amazon in Seattle, officials held a news conference to discuss the proposal.
They detailed the marketing materials they sent, focusing on Charlotte’s “edginess” and appeal to millennials. They showed a video that highlighted Charlotte’s sports, banking institutions, schools and cultural amenities like the U.S. National Whitewater Center and NASCAR Hall of Fame, along with a spoken word narration from a local poet.
Ronnie Bryant, chief executive of the regional partnership, refused to answer questions about financial incentives at the November press conference.
“No comment,” said Bryant, when asked by reporters to outline the high and low end of the range of money Amazon could get if it picks Charlotte. “Nice try.”
Bryant also refused to say where the 20-plus potential sites for Amazon HQ2 in the Charlotte region were. He said the site information belongs to the the developers and real estate brokers throughout the region and wasn’t the partnership’s to share.
On Thursday, a spokeswoman said Bryant wasn’t available for an interview. Asked explicitly whether the partnership would share the bid documents, the spokeswoman did not respond.
Out of the loop
Typically, when Charlotte bids for a corporate relocation, council members and Mecklenburg commissioners meet in closed session to discuss incentives.
That information is exempt from the state’s open records laws until the process is over. Win or lose, the city and county must then disclose information related to their bid.
But city leaders have been largely out of the loop on Amazon HQ2.
Pat Mumford heads the city’s Neighborhood & Business Services department, which oversees the city’s economic development office. Mumford said he doesn’t have a copy of the Amazon bid and hasn’t seen it.
Mumford said he participated in some meetings with partnership officials, where he outlined the city’s formula for offering a company incentives.
Mumford said he doesn’t know how the partnership chose to market Charlotte. He said he would like to see the final bid.
Republican city council member Ed Driggs said he doesn’t think Charlotte missing the latest cut was a “near-miss situation.” He said he thinks cities like Nashville, Tenn., are being included by Amazon as a “dog-and-pony show to whip up” better incentives.
But Driggs said he is curious as to how the partnership presented the city. “Our marketing effort isn’t as tightly organized (as other cities),” he said.
The partnership also pitched sites in surrounding areas such as Cabarrus and Rowan counties as part of its Charlotte bid. Did the partnership give those areas equal weight to Charlotte? What cultural parts of the city did it highlight?
Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles, a Democrat, said she wants the bid to be released, but not yet. She said she doesn’t want information on state incentives to jeopardize Raleigh’s bid.
“There will be a time for that,” Lyles said. “We ought to do disclosure when a decision is made.”
The partnership could release the Charlotte bid now, with information on state incentives redacted.
Not everyone agreed the bid needs to be made public.
Republican commissioner Jim Puckett doesn’t think the partnership needs to release the bid.
“I fear that giving out the details with nothing to show for it opens us up to setting the floor going forward, a position I would not endorse,” he said. “Whenever I am in a bid environment with my company I do not want my competitors to know what I proposed.”