General

Amazon’s HQ2 could be a big win for Chicago — and beyond

amazonFrom the Saturday, Sept. 23, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

The WISCH LIST

The City of Big Shoulders remains The City of Big Aspirations. But in recent years, Chicago has more often been The City of Big Losers when it comes to actually making those aspirations a reality,

It lost its bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympics. It lost its funding to build the 2,000-foot Chicago Spire. And it lost its bid to become home to the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art. But, thankfully, Chicago hasn’t yet lost its nerve. And here’s to hoping that when it comes to luring e-commerce giant Amazon to town, Chicago still has some big ideas up its sleeve.

Because the Windy City is due for a big win.

Earlier this month, Amazon sent politicians, real estate brokers, urban developers and job seekers across North America into a tizzy of excitement when it announced plans to spend $5 billion to build a second headquarters ­– dubbed “HQ2” – that will be fully equal to its Seattle home base and could create 50,000 new jobs.

For a city and state in dire need of such an economic shot in the arm, the reasons for Chicago to pursue Amazon are obvious. And despite Illinois’ rocky political and financial climate, there are plenty of reasons for Amazon to choose Chicago. Its requirements include 8 million square feet of space (check) in a metropolitan area of at least a million people (check) within 45 minutes of an international airport (check), accessible to mass transit (check) and close to major highways (check).

Amazon also wants a “stable and business-friendly environment,” which will require some serious spit shining from civic leaders before bids are due Oct. 19. But, hey, that’s where those big ideas come into play.

Upon hearing of Amazon’s expansion plans, there were two potential sites in Chicago that immediately came to mind. One was the vacant Old Main Post Office covering two city blocks and straddling Congress Parkway as it turns into the Eisenhower Expressway in the West Loop. The second was the former A. Finkl & Sons steel plant covering as much as 100 acres along the Chicago River on the city’s North Side.

With its proximity to downtown and mass transit in addition to immediate availability, the Post Office is ideal in many ways, but offers “only” 2.5 million square feet of space. Although, it could perhaps be paired with available office space at other nearby buildings, including Willis Tower. The A. Finkl site, meanwhile, offers loads of space and is owned by influential developer Sterling Bay, which recently has brought the headquarters of McDonald’s, Google Midwest and Hillshire Farms to the West Loop. But the location also is a complete clean slate that would require lengthy planning and construction.

I actually wonder if perhaps Amazon could select both, choosing the Post Office as its immediate HQ2 with plans to build out a dream campus on the A. Finkl site and move workers there once it’s complete.

Interestingly, the Chicago Tribune also reported this week that in the past year more warehouse space has been gobbled up in the Chicago area than anywhere in the country, with Amazon signing five of the 13 largest leases, including two locations in Aurora, one each in Waukegan, Monee and Crest Hill.

Now, whether that’s actually an early tell for Amazon’s headquarters plans is anyone’s guess. But it does indicate that with company-owned space already stretching into the south and southwest suburbs, if Amazon were to choose Chicago for HQ2 the ripple effect of job opportunities could extend well beyond the city limits.

And that would be a truly big win for everyone.