Montgomery County’s bid to lure Amazon’s second headquarters highlighted the area’s highly educated workforce, transportation network and internet connectivity.
But the financial and tax incentives that county officials offered the Seattle-based internet giant to locate in the county remain secret. Before releasing the recruitment package to Bethesda Beat this week through a public records request, the county blacked out all passages and pages that referred to its specific pitch, including possible economic and tax incentives.
Any information that might have revealed the site the county was pitching to the Seattle-based internet company also was redacted.
However, it appears based on what wasn’t redacted in the documents that the county is pitching one site to Amazon.
Notably missing from the recruitment package is any reference to the White Flint Mall site, which County Executive Ike Leggett said publicly in September was a contender to be part of the county’s pitch. At the time, Leggett told a group of real estate agents the former mall site in the emerging “Pike District” area of North Bethesda was one of the possibilities. He did not mention any other potential sites by name at the meeting.
Francine Waters, a spokeswoman for Lerner Enterprises, which owns the mall site, declined to talk with Bethesda Beat in September about whether the company was trying to work with the county to pitch the site to Amazon. She was out of the office on Tuesday and did not immediately respond to an email message.
The White Flint Mall property, in North Bethesda is about 45 acres and owned by Lerner Enterprises. The former mall at the site has been razed, but the Lord & Taylor store remains after the retailer won a contentious $31 million lawsuit against Lerner and the Tower Cos. in 2017 to keep its store at the location.
Montgomery County’s reluctance to speak openly about its pitch is similar to the secrecy of other jurisdictions around the country that also are trying to win the Amazon headquarters.
The website Taxanalysts sought records from 10 jurisdictions that submitted bids to Amazon for the second headquarters. Only one jurisdiction, Toledo, Ohio, provided a copy of its proposal without redacted incentive information. Toledo offered a package worth at least $780 million, including a nearly $470 million performance-based grant, according to Taxanalysts.
Washington, D.C., denied a WAMU reporter’s request for the detailed financial incentives the city offered the company as part of its bid.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has said that Port Covington in Baltimore would be a strong site for the Amazon headquarters, but was more nuanced in his support for Baltimore in a letter to Amazon owner Jeffrey Bezos. His letter highlighted the strong economy in Maryland as well as the large companies and research universities already based in the state.
Gov. Larry Hogan's letter to Amazon, which was included in a number of letters of support Montgomery County put in its bid. (Note: Text blurriness is from the copy Bethesda Beat received from Montgomery County)
In the Montgomery County recruitment package, the bids’ pages and supporting documents that weren’t redacted show an effort by the county to promote its urban features, parks, education system and experienced workforce. It includes several letters of support to the company, including ones signed by Hogan, Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson, Discovery Communications’ Corporate Operations Chief David Leavy, and Federal Realty’s mixed-use division President Chris Weilminster.
“This past year, Marriott engaged in a search for a new headquarters site, given our need for a facility more closely aligned with today’s workforce,” Sorenson wrote in his letter. “After a robust search process, we decided to remain here in Montgomery County, and look forward to opening a state-of-the-art, transit-accessible facility in 2022.”
Sorenson described working with local officials on the headquarters transition process as “smooth.”
“County officials have done all they can to ensure our relocation will be efficient and seamless,” Sorenson wrote.
The county and state promised Marriott up to $62 million in taxpayer-funded subsidies in October 2016 to move from an office park on Fernwood Road in Bethesda to downtown Bethesda. In order to receive all the incentives, Marriott must hit benchmarks such as completing its headquarters building and employing 3,500 people at the location for 10 years.
The county is competing against 237 other places in the U.S. and Canada to try to land Amazon’s second headquarters.
Amazon is searching for a site to build a $5 billion headquarters complex to house up to 50,000 employees that could grow to 8 million square feet by 2027. If that comes to fruition, it would be nearly 10 times as large as Marriott’s 825,000-square foot headquarters plan for Bethesda. Amazon plans to announce its chosen site sometime this year, according to its request for proposals.
Montgomery County’s 32-page main proposal begins with the lines, “Innovation through diversity… Amazon doesn’t follow. It leads. And so does Montgomery County.” The first 9-page section after the introduction and table of contents has been redacted by county officials.
The first page of the proposal.
Montgomery County Attorney Edward Lattner wrote in response to Bethesda Beat’s public information request that the county redacted financial incentives in the bid because the county believes that information is protected by Maryland law on the grounds that it is “confidential commercial or confidential financial information.”
The county also redacted information about “zoning, density and development potential, transportation, connectivity, and infrastructure investment” that was pitched in the bid for similar reasons.
Lattner wrote that releasing the redacted information “would hamper the county’s ability to successfully compete with other jurisdictions.”
The redacted space and the grammar seem to point to the county promoting a single spot. On the first page of the main bid, the county redacted the key part of the sentence, “Our __________ is the ideal spot for Amazon HQ2.”
References to how close that “spot” is to other places in the county and region have been redacted, such as how long it would take to travel to the region’s three major airports.
Two entire appendices—one titled “additional incentives” and the other “concept drawings and site information”—were entirely redacted.
The redacted lines of a portion of the "additional incentives" appendix included in Montgomery County's bid for Amazon
The partially redacted "Connectivity" page from the proposal highlighting the area's connections to transportation infrastructure.
Information not redacted primarily highlighted the county’s proximity to high-speed internet providers, such as Hughes Network Systems, a satellite broadband provider headquartered in Germantown.
Other pages include information about the county’s diverse population, such as a graphic that points out that 40 percent of residents speak a language other than English and that one-third of the county’s residents are foreign born. The bid highlights local parks and attractions such as Strathmore Music Center, AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center and The Maryland Soccerplex.
A full page is dedicated to the numbers of lawyers, accountants, computer workers, management and administrative employees in the county—the types of positions Amazon is seeking to fill at its new headquarters.
The workforce page. (click to expand)
A map included as part of the bid highlights the county’s proximity to federal and educational institutions in the region, although it appears to show Johns Hopkins University along I-270, even though the main campus is in Baltimore. The university does have a satellite campus in Rockville on Medical Center Drive.
A map showing federal facilities in the area included in the bid. (Click to expand)