- WASHINGTON POST
Amazon Opens Second HQ with Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony for New Virginia Offices
16:24 JST, June 17, 2023
The last time Amazon executives gathered in Northern Virginia, announcing in late 2018 they had chosen this site just outside D.C. for the company’s second headquarters, they did so in an empty, low-slung warehouse.
Nearly five years later – after massive construction efforts, tense public meetings, a shift to remote work, and plenty of publicity and controversy along the way – the same officials got onstage at the same spot Thursday to cut a giant orange ribbon on the tech giant’s new headquarters and again extol the economic benefits they say will come from setting roots in Arlington.
But this time, they addressed a crowd from inside Merlin – one of the glass-paneled, electric-powered towers the company has since erected at “HQ2” in the Crystal City neighborhood, complete with a trailer offering free bananas and a wall with framed pictures of employees’ dogs.
(Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post, and the newspaper’s interim CEO, Patty Stonesifer, serves on Amazon’s board.)
“This journey began with what I think was a very smart decision by Amazon to put their second headquarters here, a $2.5 billion investment right here in Virginia,” Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) said, before jokingly offering a challenge to the corporate titan’s leaders.
“I don’t want to create any intracompany tension,” he added, “but I wonder if this should be renamed HQ1?”
The ribbon-cutting ceremony marks the formal opening of the first phase of Amazon’s campus, where it has said it plans to bring 25,000 highly paid tech workers to a site it has called Metropolitan Park, or Met Park for short.
More than 8,000 employees have already been hired, though many are still moving into Merlin and a sister building, Jasper, as the company continues outfitting its facilities.
As part of a much-criticized nationwide bidding war to attract these new offices, local and state lawmakers offered up to $750 million in taxpayer subsidies – as well as a graduate engineering school in nearby Alexandria and a host of public transit projects.
Elected officials in Arlington and Virginia have heralded HQ2 as a game changer that will transform the surrounding area. Met Park has tripled street-level retail in the neighborhood, added a 2.5-acre public park and introduced a new name for the area: National Landing.
Still, the company’s highly publicized move to Arlington is playing out amid broader concerns about housing costs, remote work and the contraction of the tech industry.
Earlier this year, Amazon laid off thousands of employees in other offices. The company paused construction on a second set of offices up the street, a site that will also include a futuristic glass spiral known as the Helix. (That lot is now a mix of dirt, gravel and shrubbery hidden by fences.)
In a brief interview with The Post, Amazon executive Holly Sullivan also said the company would definitely be ending its leasing contracts on all but one of the buildings it has been occupying a few blocks away.
But none of that was brought up as politicians and executives addressed a crowd Thursday. Instead, Youngkin – who in his speech talked about promises being made and promises being kept – started with another question for the corporate executives before him.
“Do you have to be an employee of Amazon in order to put your dog on the dog wall?” he asked. “I have four, and we’d like to add our family’s dogs.”
The pictorial display of hounds and puppies that welcomes employees is one of the many quirky, forward-thinking – and, to some, perplexing – office touches that the company has brought to the East Coast, which it showed off on a tour for politicians and news reporters.
Both Merlin and Jasper contain “centers of energy” on the lower levels with open workspaces, gourmet coffee and doughnuts, and architecture for employees to have chance meetings. The park outside, which is open to the public, includes a dog park as well as a larger-than-life sculpture of mushrooms native to Virginia forests.
The campus will formally open to neighbors and residents at a public-facing event Saturday, which will kick off a weekly farmers market located inside the park.
After Amazon announced its search for a new headquarters in 2017, more than 230 cities submitted bids – in some cases, offering billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies – to attract a campus like this one and the thousands of high-paying tech jobs that come with it.
At the time, some urbanists and geographers speculated that the new headquarters could revitalize a decaying Rust Belt community if it moved there. Others worried that the company was using the process to collect a valuable trove of data from hundreds of municipalities where it might later build warehouses or other facilities.
But in the end, the company split the prize between two of the most economically successful, expensive metro areas in the United States – New York and D.C. – which would put its executives near powerful actors on Wall Street and in the federal government, respectively.
Public and political outcry led the company to pull out of its plans for Queens, but local and state officials rolled out the welcome mat in Virginia as the company promised to transform a dull area that had for years been struggling to fill its empty concrete office buildings.
That strong support was on full display on Thursday.
“Think about how we are catalyzing the emergence of a dynamic neighborhood that will be the envy of our region,” Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey (D) said in his speech Thursday. “It has been incredibly rewarding to see everything that we thought our partnership could be [a few years ago] materialize and deliver transformational change.”
As Dorsey and other officials have noted, Arlington, which based its incentives on an expected increase in tax revenue from hotel stays, has yet to pay the company a penny. Sullivan, Amazon’s vice president of worldwide economic development, said that the company probably would not have come to Virginia had the state offered no incentives at all.
As Brian Huseman, Amazon’s vice president for public policy, showed officials around the building, he pointed out a number of features that the company has integrated into the new offices to make it more sustainable or emphasize its ties to Virginia.
There was an urban farm on one terrace with a commanding view of the area. Gardens around the site have incorporated native plants, and bathrooms recycle dirty “gray water.” Signs show off Amazon mantras, such a “Hire and develop the best.”
But at the ribbon-cutting, Huseman offered up details about one feature that is particularly dear to him: He recounted that he was part of the small group of Amazon officials tasked with going through all of the bids for the new headquarters.
During that highly secretive process, he said in a speech, the group named each finalist after a dog owned by one of its members. The code name for Northern Virginia’s bid was Project Cooper, after Huseman’s labradoodle.
A framed picture of Cooper, he noted, is on the dog wall.
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