Amazon’s Second Headquarters Could Be a Golden Opportunity for Chicago

Amazon employees tend to their dogs as construction continues on three large, glass-covered domes as part of an expansion of the company’s campus in downtown Seattle.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Amazon is seeking bids for a second headquarters location that will be equal in size to its current Seattle base. It would ultimately employ 50,000 people in 8 million square feet of office space at an average salary of over $100,000.

This is going to be the feeding frenzy of the century.

This seems to suggest that Amazon thinks it is about capped out in Seattle, which the Seattle Times recently labeled “America’s biggest company town.” The company has over 8 million square feet of office space and accounts for nearly 20 percent of the city’s total office space. The next biggest footprint of any user in any city is Citi, with only about 3.7 million square feet in New York. (Interestingly, Columbus, Ohio is in second place when it comes to being dominated by a single office user; Nationwide Insurance has 16 percent of the total market. It looks like these may be city, not regional totals).

The impact of Amazon on Seattle has been huge. The pressure that Amazon growth has put on things like housing availability and pricing is tough to measure, but surely huge. Amazon appears to have concluded that the city can’t take anymore.

Seattle is the 15th largest metropolitan area in the U.S., with 3.8 million people. It’s also a highly attractive region with no trouble luring people to move there.  So while Amazon says that it’s open to metro areas of over a million people, realistically, if you want to be as big as Amazon is in Seattle today, you probably need to be in a market as big as Seattle or bigger.

Fifty thousand is a huge number of workers, especially when they are high-skill white-collar ones. Very few cities could easily supply that labor force. Which ones might? Let’s game this out.

Well, the usual coastal suspects can probably swing it. But they have the problem of already having very high costs and hot labor markets for exactly the skills Amazon is seeking—and building restrictions that make growth hard. The Bay Area would be an obvious choice for an HQ, but can it really accommodate one? A better question might be, does it want to? I would suggest similar questions apply to Boston.

Los Angeles/Southern California, New York, and Washington could accommodate an employer that big. Again, high costs are an issue. But especially L.A. and New York are so huge, they can do things other cities can’t. Washington is by its DNA a government town. It’s high-tech, but a lot of that tech is government related.

One intriguing option for Amazon would be New York’s Hudson Yards. Amazon is putting a huge premium on real estate in this RFP, and assuming it wants an urban location, this is one that’s nearly pre-baked. Right now it’s only planned for 6 million square feet of office, with some of that already leased. But I would guess changes could be made and/or other real estate in the area added to the mix. Newark might be a dark horse here.
What, then, are the other cities that could potentially compete? I see four strong contenders: Chicago, Dallas, Philadelphia, and Atlanta. (Houston is very energy focused and dealing with bigger problems right now. Miami and Phoenix are big enough, but could they attract the quantity of tech workers needed?) All of these are large markets with good air service. Chicago and Philly have genuine urban options with genuine urban transit. (I should note: Amazon hasn’t ruled out a suburban location). All of them would surely clear the decks of any obstacles to construction. All of them have much more affordable housing than coastal cities. All have an ability to draw college grads from a large footprint.I would expect these cities to bid aggressively. Dallas and Atlanta really don’t need Amazon, though they would surely want it. For Chicago and Philly, this represents a transformational opportunity.

Rahm Emanuel in Chicago says he’s already had conversations with Bezos. If I were making the choice, Chicago would be at the top of my list. It’s an established urban center that’s a reasonable flight distance from Seattle, with transit, a huge airline, and more. It’s also a slam-dunk draw for every Big Ten school. You can bet that Illinois’s political dysfunction would mysteriously disappear to get a deal done here. One person says Amazon’s staunchly anti-union stance rules out Chicago. We’ll see, but Seattle has strong unions too, and unions are less applicable to a while-collar workforce. Chicago has been looking for a transformational event, and this could be it.Possibly Amazon could also take a chance on scaling some smaller places, like Denver or Minneapolis. I expect everybody to be all over this. And yes, there will be huge government money on the table. Not even the most ardent anti-subsidy person out there is going to take a pass on this.

To me, this is a big test of the thesis that the coasts are capped out, which will force growth into the interior. If Amazon picks a big, established, high-cost coastal center, that will tend to undercut it. We will see.

Chicago Architecture Biennial gearing up for 2017 launch

James Welling/Chicago Architecture Biennial

With only two weeks until the launch of the 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennial, the team behind the event have been releasing a steady stream of promotional teasers and guides. For those planning to attend, there’s a lot to take in and see, but the Biennial has helped organize some of the happenings in one blog post.

In addition to its guide on exploring the Biennial, the team behind the exposition have also released a promo video.

Led by artistic directors Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee of LA-based architecture firm Johnston Marklee, this year’s edition of the Chicago Architecture Biennial aims to bring the past and future together under the banner of “Make New History.”

Similar to the inaugural Biennial, the Chicago Cultural Center will serve as the anchor site for this year’s edition. But in addition to the static installations at the Chicago Cultural Center, the Biennial will feature numerous exhibitions and displays at neighborhood anchor sites.

This year’s Chicago Architecture Biennial, which will highlight designers and architects from over 140 different firms, launches on September 16, 2017 and will run through January 7, 2018.

Chicago Labor Day Weekend 2017: What to Do

Here’s how to best enjoy the last gasp of summer in the Windy City.

Summer in Chicago is magical, but it also doesn’t seem to last long. Labor Day weekend marks the end of festival and beach seasons, which, for some, portends impending doom. To borrow the House words of Stark, winter is coming—so make sure you say goodbye to summer with a bang.

Stuff your face with food…and culture

When summer hits the Windy City, neighborhoods practically vibrate with electricity and energy, thanks in large part to the festivals that pop-up all over town. First up is the free Chicago Jazz Festival, with four days of international acts gracing the Cultural Center and Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, running from September 1-4. From there, hit Navy Pier for all the seafood you can eat at the Great American Lobster Fest (September 1-3), or zip over to Washington Park for the African Festival of Arts ($15 admission, September 1-4), a vibrant bazaar of music, artisan handiwork, world cuisines, and family-friendly entertainment.

Make the museum rounds

Labor Day marks the last day of the colorful and fascinating “Tattoo” exhibition at the Field Museum. Exploring the global culture of ink, “Tattoo” explores the rituals, origins, and meaning of body art, from its beginnings in the Pacific to Sailor Jerry’s post-war influence. While you’re at it, explore the larger-than-life “Jurassic World” exhibition in a special tent adjacent to the Field. For an additional $15, the immersive experience lets you get up close with dinosaurs beyond dusty fossils, like the Brachiosaurus, Velociraptor, and, of course, the Tyrannosaurus rex.

Want more Pacific-themed art? Make a beeline to the Art Institute for “Gauguin: Artist as Alchemist,” which ends September 10. The exhibit celebrates the post-Impressionist’s paintings, sculptures, and prints from his globe-trotting. If wild color and flights of fancy are more your speed, the Museum of Contemporary Art is currently displaying the whimsical pop art of Takashi Murakami, through September 24. Explore the influential Japanese artist’s humble beginnings in traditional folk art as well as his anime-inspired, large-scale collaborations with the likes of Kanye West and Louis Vuitton.

Courtesy Field Museum

Visiting the Field Museum? Say hi to Sue, the largest, most complete T. rex skeleton ever found.

Cruise Lake Michigan on a yacht

The Architecture Foundation’s Chicago River tour is one of the best things to do in the city, but if you want to take in the skyline from a yacht, head to Spirit Cruises, docked at Navy Pier. Hop aboard one of the cocktail, dinner, or firework cruises, and snack and sip while the boat boomerangs out over Lake Michigan, providing a prime view of Chicago’s iconic skyline. (Spirit is also offering special brunch and dinner cruises on Labor Day itself.) Sailing lengths range from one-and-a-half hours to three, and prices begin at $30.

Watch the divas belt it out

Come summer, Ravinia becomes Chicago’s living room, and visitors to the park’s 36 acres sit on a sprawling lawn to enjoy world-class acts. The oldest outdoor music festival in the country is a huge draw, especially when acts like Gladys Knight, Michael Bolton, UB40, and Aretha Franklin—some of this year’s headliners—take the stage. Pack a picnic, drink some wine, and enjoy the tunes. (It’s BYOB.)

Head to the water

The city’s beaches close Labor Day, so get to the water. North Avenue and Oak Street beaches will draw the largest crowds, so hop on a Divvy bikeshare and head north—but not before stopping by excellent barbecue shack Flat and Point, which is owned and operated by Sepia and Charlie Trotter veteran, Brian Bruns. For more of a boardwalk feel, head to The Dock at Montrose Beach for casual American fare. Just south of the Loop, beaches like 31st and 57th Street beaches offer incredible views of the skyline, and are far less crowded.

The Loop’s new Washington-Wabash ‘L’ station opens August 31


Next week, the $75 million Washington-Wabash ‘L’ station will make its grand debut in the heart of the Loop. Starting August 31, the new station will officially be open to the public. Having been under construction for nearly three years, the contemporary station replaces the former stops at Madison-Wabash and Randolph-Wabash under one roof as a new Loop superstation.

With a central location in the Loop, the station will service the Brown, Purple, Orange, Green and Pink lines. According to city officials, the construction project has been financed entirely with federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) funds and will feature recycled materials, new LED lighting, and will also meet ADA compliance.

The station is already turning heads with its striking contemporary design and skeletal canopy that is reminiscent of the work of Santiago Calatrava, the star architect behind the new World Trade Center transit hub in New York. However, the design for the new Washington-Wabash comes from engineering and design outfit EXP—a firm that announced its move from its Toronto headquarters to Chicago back in February.

Once opened, the new station will be a become a major hub along the CTA’s rail system. The transit agency estimates that the Washington-Wabash station will see roughly 13,000 riders per day, making it one of the busiest stations in the system.


Open Saturday, August 26th, 10 am to Noon

Classic and beautiful 3 Bedroom, 2 full bath, gut rehab Georgian. This home has been completely redone with attention to detail throughout. Granite kitchen leads to dining area with glass sliding doors to over-sized custom deck, perfect for entertaining and outdoor dining. All new hardwood floors throughout, new vinyl crank and slider windows, huge closets and storage throughout. Updated bathrooms, one upper and one lower. Designer lighting & window treatments throughout. Tear off roof 3 years ago, new furnace and central air, extra large new front loading washer and dryer. Intricate and detailed guaranteed-to-always-work Flood Control System. Beautiful basement that is always dry. Gorgeous yard with boxed planter. Oversized 2.5 garage opens on two sides great for functionality. Meticulously maintained home. In district for Canty Elementary School, 1+ CPS School. Close to redesigned Golf Course, Shopping, Major Expressways, and public transportation. Very nice block.

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