In New York, Amazon’s (scrapped) plans for a Queens headquarters were ultimately received with a derisive Bronx cheer. Legislators in Arlington, Virginia, however, have been more welcoming, going so far as to offer the company up to $23 million just to do what it does best: be really goddamn big.
An agreement between Arlington County and Amazon, released today and first reported on by the Washington Post, outlines the exact requirements necessary for the retail giant to secure the hefty Transient Occupancy Tax Grant. All the retail giant needs to do is occupy approximately 6 million square feet of real estate by the end of June, 2035. That would put Amazon’s Crystal City branch office at a little less than half the size of its Seattle HQ, which is just a fraction of its estimated global footprint of 288 million square feet. (If neither of those numbers mean much, it’s about 105 football fields.)
The agreement outlines a specific square footage target for each year, but where disbursement of incentive money is concerned, Amazon has some wiggle room. Maximum grants are still paid out in the event the company occupies at least 90 percent of the target square footage. And “occupy” is further, generously meant to mean not just the building or buildings themselves, but also the “corporate campus, including related structures, machinery, furniture, fixtures and equipment.” Amazon will also be entitled to partial payments for landing anywhere between 50 and 90 percent of the goals.
Expanding its operations or otherwise occupying space isn’t something Amazon has historically struggled with, and might be thought of by Seattleites in a generous mood as one of the company’s core competencies.
The neoliberalist sting many feel when local governments pay extremely wealthy private corporations will only be worsened by a section of the agreement that promises more of the cloak and dagger politicking Amazon tried to play in New York. Specifically, the county agrees to give Amazon “not less than two business days written notice” in the event of Freedom of Information requests about the campus or its various agreements, allowing the company “to take such steps as it deems appropriate with regard to the requested disclosure of records.”
In exchange for all this generosity, one would think Arlington County would be in a position to ask Amazon for something in return. (One sticking point in New York was Amazon’s refusal to remain neutral in the event of a union drive among its workforce.) However, the Washington Post reports that the Arlington board merely expects Amazon to “build strong relationships with the community.” Amazon’s own former Director of Economic Development, Mike Grella, chided this limp request. “Measurable, transparent goals that incorporate constituent feedback will facilitate public trust and support,” Grella tweeted. “Define what strong community relations means.”
The insultingly low bar necessary to clear this $23 million hurdle is sure to further embolden grassroots resistance efforts in the area, while New Yorkers continue to agitate for better working conditions for extant Amazonians in their city.