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Putting their best feet forward: 5 NJ cities make case for why they should land HQ2

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For Michele Brown of Choose New Jersey, the Garden State has the two best traits Amazon needs for its second headquarters: location and education.

“We think that for a company like Amazon, our location is perfect,” the organization’s president and CEO said. “New Jersey has access to major international airports; we have the largest port on the East Coast; we have great freight lines, highways systems, mass transportations and the like that is really good for a company like Amazon.”

Amazon, which has yet to disclose a full list of second-round contenders for its HQ2, said economic incentives would be a major factor when it makes a final decision in its request for proposals (RFP).

And while Gov. Chris Christie’s office backed Newark as the state’s official HQ2 bid, the $5 billion tax abatement from the Economic Development Authority (EDA) is available to any city in the state. Newark itself is adding on a property-tax abatement of $1 billion and a $1 billion wage tax waiver.

“The principal behind the state’s application was ‘How to we put together the best possible application for the state of New Jersey?’” Brown said. “We at Choose NJ, the state’s economic development agency and the state’s action committee all served as a team working with each of the municipalities that were interested in submitting a proposal to help all of them individually put together the most compelling proposals that they could.

“Everybody that was interested worked on their individual sites, we worked on pulling together the statewide information. And after that process began, the applicants who we believed met all of the criteria required by Amazon were Camden, Trenton, Jersey City, New Brunswick and Newark.”

Together with the EDA’s incentives, Newark’s HQ2 bid would total $7 billion in incentives, but the other four cities that met the criteria set forth by Choose New Jersey do not require a $1 billon wage tax like Newark. And each also would offer a comparable local real estate tax incentive.

So while Newark would appear to be in the driver’s seat thanks to the governor’s endorsement, “If any city in the state of New Jersey were to win the Amazon deal, it would be phenomenal for the entire state,” Brown said.

New Brunswick, Camden, Trenton and Jersey City each can also offer an e-commerce giant, or any large firm for that matter, a significant advantage in their own right. Whether that means cheap land, proximity to a qualified pool of talent, diversity, housing stock or a marketable combination of all of these factors.

These four cities are likely to be the most marketable urban areas in the state, according to Choose New Jersey, and would ultimately catalyze economic development for the state as a whole.

NJBIZ has identified aspects of each of the five cities that may make each attractive to Amazon. Here’s how they stack up:  

CAMDEN

Renderings provided by Camden County Improvement Authority/ Ewing Cole. Maps provided by Camden County Improvement Authority.
Renderings provided by Camden County Improvement Authority/ Ewing Cole. Maps provided by Camden County Improvement Authority.

Whether it’s the presence of companies such as Subaru, Holtec International or American Water, Camden’s rebirth, while young, has been in the spotlight for some years now.

It is only logical that the city would submit a bid for Amazon’s HQ2, but Camden does not stand alone, either. Camden worked along Gloucester County and the Cooper’s Ferry Partnership, and is now offering two waterfront sites and several others along the city totaling 138.58 acres.

American Water’s national headquarters building, which is currently under construction, would sit adjacent to the HQ2 campus, Camden said in its proposal. One of the proposed sites also sits adjacent to the Campbell’s Field baseball park, which the city and Rutgers University recently announced would be demolished and replaced with a joint athletic facility.

“Located on the Delaware River waterfront directly across from Center City Philadelphia and adjacent to the Ben Franklin Bridge, the Phase 1 location is prime waterfront real estate owned by development partner Liberty Property Trust,” Camden’s proposal said. “The remaining 134 acres of land is owned by both public and private organizations that all expressed an interest to sell the identified land at a market rate price based on a pre-Amazon selection.

“The government currently owns approximately 71 percent, or 98 acres, while the private sector owns 29 percent, or 40 acres. As a result, Amazon has the option to both select its own developers for each of its future sites and avoid privately held property if any of the owners later become difficult partners. This unique situation further provides Amazon the option to radiate its HQ2 expansion either east, north, or south from its nucleus on the Delaware River waterfront, thereby incorporating shovel-ready redevelopment sites through the waterfront and downtown sections of Camden as it sees fit.”

Camden’s proposal also states there would be no demolition of existing residential structures nor displacement of residents required.

Freeholder Director of Camden County Louis Cappelli Jr. said that the biggest advantage to a firm like Amazon would be the price point and its proximity to the higher education institutions in the city and suburbs.

“Within our region, the number of universities and colleges that can help produce high-skilled workers is significant and can meet the demand of Amazon,” he said. “[We have] Rutgers University, Rowan University, Camden County College and right across the river we have University of Pennsylvania, Drexel, Villanova; there are far too many to list. [Rutgers-Camden and Rowan] are both suitable for a company like Amazon and they would both grow if Amazon came here. “

Camden’s response to the RFP when it comes to economic incentives, according to its proposal, would rely on the New Jersey Economic Opportunity Act of 2013.

“I am confident and believe this is the right time for Camden,” Camden Mayor Dana Redd said. “This is yet another opportunity for the city to build upon its renowned industrial past and rich legacy of innovation. I believe the city has put together a very competitive application. Camden has done a good job of attracting more than $2 billion in investment and other forward-thinking industry leaders like Subaru, Holtec and American Water, among others.

“We see Amazon as an excellent fit. Simply put, Camden’s location is second-to-none in terms of distribution and logistics. Our city and region has the assets needed to support Amazon and it would be a tremendous boost for Camden, the state and the entire regional economy.”

JERSEY CITY

Images provided by Jersey City. Building: Proposed built-to-suit office tower – Harborside Tower – at Harborside. Provided by SJP Properties/ Mack-Cali.
Images provided by Jersey City. Building: Proposed built-to-suit office tower – Harborside Tower – at Harborside. Provided by SJP Properties/ Mack-Cali.

Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop sees the city’s proximity to New York City, a more competitive price point and its rail infrastructure as the biggest assets for its HQ2 bid.

Across four sites, the largest of which is a part of Mack-Cali’s Harborside complex, Jersey City hopes to continue densifying its downtown and lure the e-commerce giant with lower construction costs and being only one stop away from Manhattan by train or ferry.

“Our application is as, or more competitive than anybody in New Jersey or anybody in the country,” Fulop said. “Our mass transportation system is second-to-none. Our geographic location relative to New York, our pricing advantage to build relative to New York and from a housing standpoint and workers’ standpoint, the Jersey City narrative is pretty competitive.”

And while the city has extensive economic incentives and development assistance programs, the city does not want its bid to be viewed solely based on giveaways, Fulop said.

“We don’t want to be chosen because we are going to be giving away the store,” he said. “That is not where we are coming from and we don’t have an intention of doing that. I think our offer is going to be based on the fact that Jersey City offers a lot of things that are important to Amazon.

“We offer a vibrant, young, growing city with geographic proximity to the biggest media market in the world and pricing advantage as it relates to housing.”

Fulop said that working together with the city’s prominent and established developers also makes the city’s bid competitive.

“There was no shortage of developers and even some people from the community in some instances,” he said. “We had to whittle that down, so what we did was take the two that would make the proposal the most competitive based on what we understood [Amazon] was looking for.”

However, even if the city is not selected by Amazon, Fulop said he is confident the city is set to benefit. In putting together its proposal, Jersey City Deputy Mayor Marcos Vigil was in talks with New York, which included Jersey City in its proposal for its ever-growing housing stock at a [relatively] lower price point.

“We’re betting that Amazon wants to be in the New York metropolitan area,” Fulop said. “We think that geographically, that is a decision they are going to come to, and if that happens they are going to ask ‘where are we going to be located within that New York Metro area?’ They could be located in New York, they could be located in Newark and they could be located in Jersey City, which are probably the three most compelling proposals that are out there.

“Of those three proposals, which we think we will benefit regardless of who wins it, we happen to think we’re the best because of where we are from a sweet spot in proximity to New York, affordability, growth potential, branding. All of those things, we think, fit best with what Amazon is looking for. But, if they end up being in New York or in Newark, we are going to accrue benefits from it.”

NEWARK

Renderings provided by the City of Newark.
Renderings provided by the City of Newark.

Gov. Chris Christie made headlines in October when he, alongside U.S. Sen. Cory Booker and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, announced the state would back the city of Newark in its Amazon HQ2 bid.

After working with Choose New Jersey and the EDA, the governor, state and city put together a bid for 35 acres of land for development and over 1 million square feet of space ready for occupancy.

Newark’s bid consists of three phases and includes the development of four sites that would be ready to break ground as early as this year.

“This is the last and biggest test for this administration’s economic policies,” Christie said at the unveiling of the Newark bid. “We see as we drive around this city, the efforts of Mayor Booker and Mayor Baraka as well as the Legislature and our administration, you see the growth happening in Newark. You see the new buildings that have been built, the new buildings that are being built right now. You see the increase in retail opportunities. You see the increase in residential opportunities and you see the transformation of the educational system in Newark.

“ … All of those things could not have happened without the work of Sen. Booker, both as United States senator and as mayor, Mayor Baraka as mayor and County Executive [Joseph] DiVincenzo. We have all worked together as a team to say that Newark’s renaissance can no longer be talk. It has to be action.”

In its bid, the city listed 33 Washington Street, 520 Broad Street and Gateway Center as immediately available. Together, these three locations amass a total 1.26 million square feet, far exceeding Amazon’s initial requirement of 500,000 square feet.

Consequently, the state’s proposal includes 5.6 acres owned by Matrix Development along the Passaic River and next to Newark Penn Station for phases I, II and III of development.

Lotus Equities and the Berger Organization also offered an 11.8-acre site along the river and adjacent to the Newark Broad Street Station for phases II and III.

Developers Edison Properties and J&L have offered a 15.5-acre site near their ongoing Mulberry Commons development around the Ironside Newark building.

If Newark is selected, Amazon would join confectionery Mars Wrigley in downtown Newark. Mars Wrigley last year announced plans to create a headquarters at the former Central Railroad warehouse – now Ironside Newark.

Meanwhile, developer RBH Group offered an 8.9-acre downtown site currently zoned for residential development.

“We are willing to give $5 billion in tax incentives over 10 years upon the creation of the 50,000 new jobs,” Christie said. “Let any state go and try to beat that package along with what we have offered here in Newark.

“I’m proud that the City of Newark has also stepped up to offer a local property tax abatement that could be worth another $1 billion and would waive its wage tax to make this development happen, which would mean Amazon HQ2 employees in Newark would keep an estimated $1 billion of their hard earned money over 20 years. All of the economic incentives put together, from the city and the state, would realize $7 billion in potential credits against Amazon’s state and city taxes, and still it would be an economic benefit for the state, which the Economic Development Authority estimates at over $9 billion in economic benefit to the State of New Jersey.”

NEW BRUNSWICK

Photo – The Hub @ New Brunswick. A proposed site for Amazon’s HQ2. – Provided by DEVCO.
Photo – The Hub @ New Brunswick. A proposed site for Amazon’s HQ2. – Provided by DEVCO.

Despite repeated efforts to discuss its proposal for Amazon HQ2, the New Brunswick Development Corp. had not responded to NJBIZ.

Published reports have said the corporation’s Amazon proposal includes the 1.7 million-square-foot mixed-use development The Hub @ New Brunswick adjacent to the NJ Transit’s New Brunswick station.

According to Tapinto.net, DEVCO’s proposal leveraged its present and previous partnership with Rutgers University and the EDA in its bid to attract Amazon to the city.

The proposal was organized with Middlesex County officials and included the Rutgers Center for Innovation Education in Piscataway and another site along Route 1.

“Middlesex County has everything that Amazon is seeking, and we are working with our partners to put the strongest possible proposal together to bring Amazon to our community,” Middlesex County Freeholder Director Ronald Rios said in a statement. “Why? This could mean 50,000 new, full-time jobs. It will boost the local and regional economies. It will raise the quality of life of all our residents and enhance our already strong business environment.”

Freeholder Kenneth Armwood, who chairs the county’s Business Development and Education Committee, said Middlesex County can also leverage Middlesex County College, the Woodbridge Academy and others to attract Amazon.

TRENTON

Courtesy Greater Trenton.
Courtesy Greater Trenton.

George Sowa, founding CEO of economic development organization Greater Trenton, sees the city’s Amazon HQ2 bid as the impetus it needs to catalyze development in Mercer County.

For its proposal, Greater Trenton, alongside Mercer County and the city government, submitted five development campus sites throughout Trenton. The goal, Sowa said, would be to create density in more than one area, allowing for the city to grow in unison rather than in individual pieces.

The development sites, two along the Delaware River, one at the former Roebling manufacturing complex, another at the Trenton Station and a downtown site, would be enough for Amazon to not only build its requested 8 million square feet, but also allow for other development to take place around the city. Greater Trenton’s proposal identified sites for up to 14 million square feet in new development.

Were the city to be chosen by Amazon, Trenton would work alongside developers HHG, Nexus Properties, Advance Realty, Ajax Management and Rockefeller Group. 

The city’s location, relative to four intersecting train lines and the proximity to top-notch institutions, are also factors Sowa believes boosts Trenton’s bid.

“From a location perspective, we offer connectivity to Philadelphia, which is 30 minutes by train and New York City, which is 52 minutes away,” Sowa said. “We have a 6.2 million-person [Metropolitan statistical area] in Philadelphia with a 20.1 million-person MSA in New York.

“From a pure population perspective and also locationally, we have 1.2 million students within 70 miles of Trenton and that includes three Ivy League institutions. And that includes Princeton University, where [Amazon founder and CEO] Jeff Bezos and his wife are both graduates; Columbia up in New York; and [the University of Pennsylvania] down in Philadelphia. Plus, we have a host of good schools here in New Jersey.”

Sowa said that from an operational standpoint, the city’s proximity to 11 different Amazon fulfillment centers also helps.

Adding 50,000 new residents to Trenton wouldn’t be as much of a challenge either, Sowa said.

“If all 50,000 people opted to live in Trenton at full build-out, and we have a population of 84,000 people, we’re still well under the peak population of the city in its industrial heyday,” he said. “From an infrastructure perspective, when you look at that context, it certainly looks like we should be able to accommodate in the city and the immediate suburbs that surround the city. People [also] can very easily commute to Trenton because of the four train lines that come together in Trenton.”

Greater Trenton’s application also is competitive to Newark’s in that it lacks a wage tax and would not require an abatement. If selected, Sowa said the city and Amazon would be able to negotiate a competitive real estate tax in addition to the $5 billion abatement from the EDA.

“To attract employees here, there is a lot to offer already,” Sowa said. “And when you bring 50,000 people, ultimately, there will be more to offer than what is already here. The idea of being two very large MSAs, but also have all the benefits of being in a smaller community like Trenton and some of the other options that are out there, is very important for a company like Amazon.

“When you think about 50,000 jobs with an average salary of $100,000, according to their RFP, that in it of itself makes it attractive as an employer. When you look at the number of feet of the street, it almost polices itself to some extent, where crime doesn’t happen where there is a lot of people. … We would certainly be working with the city and the state to make sure we have all those pieces in place from a safety perspective and when you have a company as big as Amazon and other companies that would be coming in that is going to be key to ensuring that they maintain a safe environment.”

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Mario Marroquin

Mario Marroquin


Mario Marroquin covers real estate. A native of El Salvador, Mario is bilingual in English and Spanish. He graduated from Penn State University and worked in Pennsylvania before moving to New Jersey. His email is mariom@njbiz.com.

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