Did Amazon successfully trick cities and states around the country into a bidding war that gave it leverage to negotiate with the two cities ― New York City and Arlington, Virginia ― it planned to launch in all along?
The company will probably never say, but the range of perks that so many places offered hints at just how much control Amazon, a company headed by the richest man in the world, wielded in this year-long game.
Not all governments have released the details of their bids, but those that have showed just how much they were willing to put on the line. Aside from the billions in tax incentives most locales offered, here’s a look at five of the most outrageous things governments brought to the table ― often at the expense of taxpayers.
Free Pets, Hotel Rooms, Aquarium Memberships And More
Dallas is perhaps the best instance of a city’s willingness to sweeten the deal with extravagant perks, offering up taxpayer dollars to provide free things to Amazon employees.
That offer included free one-year memberships to the Dallas Zoo, Dallas Children’s Aquarium, Dallas Arboretum, Texas Discovery Gardens and the Trinity River Audubon Center for any employee hired between 2019 and 2021, and waived pet adoption fees at the Dallas Animal Services adoption center for Amazon employees until 2022.
One of the pricier perks offered was an estimated $1.5 million in free rides on “shuttles, pedicabs, courtesy carts, or other quick transit solutions” to help HQ2 employees get around while the city improves its transit system.
Additionally, Dallas offered the company 2,000 free nights at a city-owned hotel and 100 free days of event space.
Renaming Public Property For Amazon
The state of Georgia said Amazon would have the opportunity to rename streets around a future campus in Atlanta.
Suggestions included Amazon Lane, Alexa Way, Prime Place and Kindle Rd.
“Simply put, Atlanta has a long history of Amazon love,” the state said in its attempt to woo the company.
It also promised to explore the possibility of turning one of Atlanta’s MARTA transit cars into a vehicle for transporting Amazon products around the metropolitan area.
Notice If The Media Is Looking Into Amazon
It wasn’t just the helicopter landing pad that helped Virginia win over a slice of the new Amazon headquarters. As part of its offer, the state will notify the company within two days of receiving any Freedom of Information Act requests about Amazon “to allow the Company to seek a protective order or other appropriate remedy.”
FOIA requests are often filed by members of the media to obtain previously unreleased information or documents controlled by the U.S. government. For example, it was through a FOIA request that The Daily Beast revealed last month that Amazon had met with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to pitch the agency on its facial recognition surveillance technology.
A Say In How Taxes Would Be Spent
Fresno, California, offered Amazon the chance to be the “ultimate corporate citizen,” as Fresno Mayor Lee Brand described it to KQED, by letting Amazon have joint say with the city in how the taxes the company paid would be spent.
The deal would have established a so-called Amazon Community Fund for Amazon’s tax money to be managed by five people: two elected officials, one community representative and two Amazon appointees.
“I’ve never seen a proposal to give a company formal control,” Greg LeRoy, executive director of the economic development nonprofit Good Jobs First, told KQED. “That’s really off the charts.”
A ‘Blank Check’ For Transit Projects
While many bids include promises to make transit easier for HQ2 employees, Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn took things a step further in the state’s bid.
“Our statement for HQ2 is we’ll provide whatever is necessary to Amazon when they need it,” he told state senators during a hearing on his department’s budget. “For all practical purposes, it’s a blank check.”
That amount, he continued, “could be more or could be less” than the $2 billion in unspecified transportation upgrades already laid out in the state’s formal bid.