The US is dotted with Great American Cities.
The shortlist cities of potential Amazon HQ2 locations, as determined by The New York Times, Bloomberg, GeekWire, and countless other major media outlets are all incredibly wonderful places.
However, following are some of the most obvious issues for some of the top contenders in the race to win Amazon HQ2.
The top North American cities of New York, Toronto, Boston, Washington, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles are always great candidates.
However, I cannot see Amazon building a new headquarters in the most expensive cities in North America for countless reasons.
Also, it is unlikely they would prefer another West coast headquarters. Chicago and state of Illinois have massive debt problems, so as much as I love Chicago– in the summer– it is out.
Denver has many fine attributes, and, in fact, it was the first choice of a writer at the NY Times. The city has over a million people, good job growth, an adequate labor pool, and good quality of life. However, Denver doesn’t make the list in many articles. This is likely due to its meager public transit system, very cold winters and being far from the East coast cities, both literally and psychologically.
Pittsburgh has worked hard to turn their city around from its rust belt roots, however, the size of the labor force hasn’t grown in 25 years.
Philadelphia has many fine attributes, but has an embattled police department and low percentage of population with higher degrees.
Charlotte and Raleigh have major issues with civil and human rights, thanks to their North Carolina politicians and way too many faux-Christian leaders like Jerry Falwell, Billy Graham, and Gardner Taylor. Charlotte and NC have long been known as the center of the Christian right. (It is notable that they have allowed science research at their universities… but for how long?)
Dallas, though working on it, doesn’t have much of a mass-transit system.
And many up-and-coming second tier cities like Austin, Nashville, Kansas City and St. Louis would likely be completely overwhelmed by 50,000 new employees of Amazon moving to their towns, along with the hundreds of new startup companies which would follow.
Which brings me to the highly spirited city of Atlanta, the sole city which best meets the qualifications needed by Amazon.
First, Seattle and Atlanta have much in common.
Born as frontier cities around 1850, they would grow to become very important gateways. Both cities were timber centers and experienced nearby gold rushes. Both cities have been graced by magnificent homegrown department stores– Seattle’s Nordstrom and Atlanta’s Rich’s. And both imported the great landscape design Olmsted family.
Both Seattle and Atlanta were to become centers of aviation manufacturing– Seattle’s Boeing and Atlanta’s Lockheed. After WWII, both cities were poised to grow in the 1950’s and 60’s, with an aspiration to become international cities. While Seattle built the Space Needle, Atlanta was constructing the spaceship Polaris-topped Hyatt Regency, whose atrium-design changed hotel culture forever. Seattle and Atlanta both grew to embody their desire to be modern, forward-looking and international.
Both cities reached important turning points in the 1990’s– Seattle as a tech hub and home to Amazon, Atlanta competing for and winning the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games.
Both cites, today have an expansive and growing creative class and are national LGBT population centers. These communities have become well known as arbiters of and the best crystal balls into the future.
Today, Atlanta’s neighbor city, Savannah, and Seattle have the 4th and 5th busiest ports in the United States, in terms of container capacity.
Both Seattle and Atlanta are bejeweled by a lush tree canopy.
Although Amazon’s HQ2 need not be located in a similar city, similarities may be a huge benefit in terms of continuity of corporate culture.
I experienced this, when Macy’s Northeast took over Macy’s South, The New York heads quickly devoured and spit out most of our 90 years of excellence, some ideas which were indeed better and more profitable, only to be renamed a new New York idea. That would likely happen if Amazon were to choose a New York, Chicago, or San Francisco. Although I realize this is somewhat of an apples to oranges comparison, I believe it has merits. Seattle is unlike most of America.
Atlanta being green, literally, is a good balance with Seattle. Who, there, would want to move to a desert? Both cities are truly aspirational and very creative– both key parts of Amazon.
Of course, being different is key to HQ2 as well.
Atlanta lies central to the Americas, between Quebec, Seattle, Mexico City and Rio de Janeiro. Atlanta is a national logistics leader due to its airport, train, trucking and proximity to the Ports of Savannah and Brunswick. It is within a two-hour flight of 80% of the US population. Atlanta is not on the coast, but is of the coast— the coast being the eastern seaboard of the US. Atlantans can drive, in five hours, to the warm ocean waters of Tybee Island, Hilton Head, or Panama City. Or, they can fly to Miami, Cancun or the Caribbean in less than two hours. Or, they can board a train to Washington, D.C.
Atlanta is a melting pot, born of all the rich culture of the South, as influenced by countless New Yorkers and Chicagoans for well over a century.
While not Silicon Valley, Atlanta has a burgeoning tech scene thanks to the Georgia Institute of Technology (1888) and great leadership. Forbes recently named it the 3rd top US city poised to become the next tech mecca.
The Business Stuff:
With a continually growing metro population of about 5.8 million people, Atlanta is the ninth largest city in the US. By 2035, the metro area is expected to be the sixth largest with about 8 million people. The city has 75% of Fortune 1000 companies represented and over 3500 international headquarters. The metro area has 2.75 million jobs, up 85,300 over 2016 or a growth rate of 3.2%. Atlanta’s economy is very diverse, serving as a hub to logistics, fintech, professional and business services, media, and information technology.
“Regional Commissioner Janet S. Rankin noted that among the 12 largest metropolitan areas in the country, Atlanta ranked first in the rate of job growth and third in the number of jobs added”– according to the US Department of Labor, 2017.
- Georgia and Atlanta have long been known as business-friendly, with a very diverse workforce coming together for the benefit of the city and business.
- Atlanta continually ranks on or near the top of places people move-to and is the top move-to location in the US east.
- Georgia is the 5th largest IT employment cluster in U.S. (200,000 high-tech professionals) with 17,000 technology companies.
- Nearby Augusta is building the US Army Cyber Security Command Center and Augusta University’s Cyber Innovation and Training Center.
- Amazon noted in their RFP that they used 233,000 hotel room nights in 2016. Metro Atlanta has 75,000 hotel rooms, the fourth most in the US.
Atlanta is home to more than 50 colleges and universities including Georgia Institute of Technology, Georgia State University, Emory University, Oxford College, Savannah College of Art & Design, Atlanta University Center (Morehouse, Spellman, Clark Atlanta Universities), Agnes Scott University, and Mercer University. The University of Georgia is only 70 miles away in Athens. More than 250,000 students are enrolled each year. Atlanta is among the top 7 urban centers in number of degrees awarded in fields including engineering, computer sciences, math, physical, biological sciences, health professions, business and the arts. In Atlanta, 39.9% of citizens have a Bachelor degree or higher and is a national leader in attracting college-educated 25-34 year olds.
The City of Atlanta is synonymous with logistics and transportation. Born as a railroad terminus, the city grew to have up to 350 trains per day in the 1960’s. Currently, Atlanta has a multitude of cargo trains. But, plans are stirring for a grand Multi-Modal Transportation Center in downtown Atlanta which would connect rail, subway/heavy rail, light-rail, streetcar, bus rapid transit, bus, automobile, pedestrian and bicycle traffic. And studies have been made for a commuter rail system to all major Georgia cities.
Future planning has been done for high-speed rail to Charlotte and the Northeast, to Chattanooga and the Midwest, and to Savannah and Miami. In truth, some of these will take years, but having Amazon in Atlanta would certainly grease the wheels to the future.
In the 1920s, Atlanta established its first airport. In 1980, it opened the largest air terminal in the world. Today, it is the busiest airport in the world with $6B in planned improvements. Delta Airlines has 5 to 9 flights daily to Seattle from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International. Delta has 1038 daily departures out of Atlanta serving 224 destinations all over the world.
In the 1970’s, Atlanta voted for MARTA heavy rail transit. Unfortunately for our friends in Seattle, their voters passed on transit. This made Atlanta the first city in the Sun Belt to have rapid transit. Today, it is the 9th largest transit system in the United States.
Atlanta has a Streetcar system that is currently being planned for a major expansion to include light rail around the BeltLine as well as crisscrossing the city. Metro residents, as well as state legislators, have turned the corner in support of more transit funding and construction. Did I mention that MARTA goes straight to the airport?
Since then, it has primarily focused on building more, wider, and smoother highways. If Atlanta didn’t grow so very fast, it would likely have one of the best super-highway systems in the US. However, since the Olympics, the city has grown too fast for the highways to keep up. Yes, everyone has heard about Atlanta traffic. Even so, some cities are far worse, and Atlanta has a $93B plan to improve its transportation.
In the mean time, the City has been building an extensive infrastructure of bike lanes and pedestrian trails.
For reference, the City of Seattle has a WalkScore of 73. Twenty three of Atlanta’s intown neighborhoods have attained that score or higher– the highest scoring eight of those neighborhoods being in Downtown Atlanta with scores from 89 to 97.
Over 56% of Atlanta office buildings are LEED certified, making Atlanta rank fifth among the 30 largest U.S. markets. Additionally, 26% were Energy Star rated, which leads the nation. TreesAtlanta has planted 119,000 trees since 1985 intown Atlanta. One of Mayor Reed’s goals is to become a top-tier sustainable city while diverting 90% of city waste from landfills by 2020.
“The City of Atlanta was recognized by the Climate Disclosure Project (CDP), for its climate control reporting. CDP selected the City of Atlanta as a top 10 city out of 308 cities worldwide after evaluating its sustainability practices and policies.”
Atlanta began placing miles and miles of fiber optic cable before the Olympics in 1996. Today, Georgia has 500,000 fiber-optic lines, including the country’s two largest fiber-optic trunk routes.
According to NerdWallet, “Georgia’s largest city and capital tops the list when it comes to mobile friendliness. The city ranked near the top in all of our metrics — it was No. 2 in carrier network coverage among all 50 cities we measured, and third for customer service, with 8.40 mobile phone stores for every 10,000 residents. It also has the second-lowest wireless tax rate — federal, state and local taxes combined — of the top 10 cities.”
Culture: Music and More
Atlanta has been an important part of the nation’s music culture since its inception. Country music filtered down the from the Appalachian mountains. R&B greats have included Gladys Knight and Little Richard, as well as countless travelling shows. Atlanta hosted thousands at the International Pop Festival– a month before Woodstock– with many of the same artists. It was home to many Southern Rock bands including the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd. The Sex Pistols first show was in Atlanta. Later, REM, the B-52’s hailed from just up the Atlanta highway.
Today, Atlanta is home to many, if not most, of the Hip-Hop scene. And, Elton John has called Atlanta one of his favorite homes since the 1980s. Of course, we also have the Grammy award-winning Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and chorus. Music Midtown and the Atlanta Jazz Festival are just two of the special music events held annually. EDM may be found nightly– but definitely– every weekend. The Indie Rock scene can be found at The Earl, the Tabernacle and the Masquerade downtown.
A top city for foodies, Atlanta has every kind of food you can imagine. From neighborhood cafes and breweries, to top chef gorgeous restaurants to see and be seen, you have got it. Food Halls, festivals, farmer’s markets and food trucks. Atlanta has great fried chicken and southern specialties, but also is a top finisher for every type of international cuisine (see Buford Hwy). Ford Fry, Kevin Gillespe, Steven Satterfield, Ryan Smith all have restaurants (or multiple) here, while chefs from other cities, like Jonathan Waxman and Sean Brock have opened in the local food scene.
“Atlanta continues to be a dominant force not only on the regional food scene, outpacing all comers in terms of both quality and quantity (not to mention variety), but nationally as well.” Zagat 2016
This may be quite interesting to Amazonians, Georgia is now the number one filming location in the world.
Georgia’s film industry contributed $9.5B to the state’s economy. The industry is a great example of the state’s willful determination to support business. Jane Fonda, Ed Helms, Holly Hunter, Julia Roberts, Spike Lee, and Tyler Perry, among many others, have called Atlanta home. More than ten film festivals annually crisscross the metro.
Atlanta’s Fox Theatre has been home to Broadway shows since the 1950s. However, home-grown theatre has entertained generations. Atlanta Ballet is the longest continually performing in the US. And, there’s the Atlanta Opera, too… if that’s your thing.
Visual Arts, Museums & Festivals:
From scores of eye-popping street murals, colossal BeltLine installations to MOCA and the HIGH Museum of Art, Atlanta has painting and sculpture wherever you go. Hundreds of Art Galleries show contemporary local and international works. From a Museum of Papermaking at Georgia Tech to the Museum at the Centers for Disease Control, to the Michael C. Carlos Museum of Antiquities at Emory, to The Booth Museum of Western Art (yes, Atlanta was once the wild West), Atlanta has got all the arts covered.
Arts Festivals are here for your enjoyment from during the beautiful weather months from April through October. By the way, the weather is not too shabby during November and December, as well.
The Great Outdoors:
Good weather and geography– it is in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains– make Atlanta an ideal place for hiking. The Chattahoochee River and the South River wind through the city of trees offering tubing, kayaking, canoeing, rafting and fishing. Lakes Lanier, Allatoona, and Jackson, on three sides of the city, offer any type of boating, water skiing and swimming. If you need white water, nearby downtown Columbus has “the longest Whitewater rafting in the world”, just 1.5 hours southwest. Or, go an hour or two north, where you will find whitewater, zip lining, skydiving, hang gliding, motocross, waterfalls, caves and the beginning of the Appalachian Trail. Georgia has 63 State Parks and 15 National Sites.
Intown, famous Piedmont Park, Freedom Park, and Grant Park are wonderful for running, strolling and people watching.
And, the fabulous highrise rooftop swimming pools of Midtown and Buckhead can’t be beat for hot times while cooling off.
Many Atlantans can afford to buy a home or condo in Atlanta. At Amazon’s projected employee median annual income of $100K, most would be able to own their own home in Atlanta, where the median home price is $212,000.
Beautiful apartment buildings have been built all over Atlanta with higher square footage and more amenities than you will get in most other cities.
The City of Atlanta is working to provide affordable housing along the BeltLine, as well.
Forward-thinking and busy ATLANTA, many years ago, chose not to compete with it’s southern counterparts including Richmond, Charleston, Birmingham, Miami, Dallas and Houston.
Atlanta has always been eschewed by other parts of Georgia and the rest of the south. It has always been too business-oriented and culturally way too liberal. It was the city that anyone that didn’t fit the conservative Southern typology rushed to.
Atlanta’s eyes were always on New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
The Atlanta Spirit:
There is a unique quality we call the Atlanta Spirit.
It is a positive energy, a sense of optimism, and feeling that each individual can be a part of creating and reimagining Atlanta.
It is the spirit that rebuilt the city after war and great fires. It is the spirit that helped lead the nation through the Civil Rights movement. It is the spirit that had the guts to compete for and win the Centennial Olympic Games, out of the more-likely hands of Athens, Greece.
And it is the spirit of a graduate student, Ryan Gravel, at Georgia Tech who masterminded the Atlanta BeltLine, one of the most appreciated urban design transformations in the world.
Interestingly, the Atlanta spirit melds perfectly with the visionary nature of Jeff Bezos and Amazon.
Lets recap, you’ve got one of the most exciting US metros…
Affordable for your highly educated and massive growing workforce.
A pro-business environment, great culture and convenient access to Seattle, San Francisco, New York, D.C. and anywhere else you may want to go in the world.
It is in the Eastern Time Zone in an inland city projected for growth.
Atlanta is a diverse and multi-cultural community which believes in
peace and aspiration.
Eleven Atlanta Super Sites
For your consideration, I have determined seven urban sites within– or on– the Atlanta BeltLine, a site between Downtown and the Airport, and three Atlanta Aerotropolis sites.
Potential Site One: THE STITCH
Perhaps the greatest potential building site in the southeast, The Stitch is an urban design plan by Central Atlanta Progress which would cover the I-75/I-85 Connector thus rejoining Midtown with Downtown Atlanta.
This site is adjacent to much of the best of Atlanta: GA Tech, Fox Theatre district, the North Avenue Smart Corridor, trendy Old 4th Ward neighborhood and Peachtree Center. This site is challenging and more vertical than other sites, but would create a dynamic synergy for Amazon and the city alike. Direct access to 3 MARTA stations and North Avenue Smart Corridor already testing autonomous vehicles. Civic Center site adjacent is being redeveloped with highrise housing.
Potential sites have frontage to Centennial Olympic Park across from Georgia Aquarium. and World of Coca-Cola.
Potential Site Two: SOUTH DOWNTOWN
The second very compelling site for Amazon HQ2 is South Downtown, which is currently experiencing a major renaissance. Highly acclaimed Mercedes-Benz Stadium has just opened, a potential Multi-Modal Transit Center, possible new ATL Live Entertainment District, Underground Atlanta is being redeveloped with housing, and German developer Newport’s authentic vintage-style Broad Street district has been purchased for redevelopment.
The site is also adjacent to City Hall & the Georgia Capitol, and the Summerhill/Turner Field redevelopment for GA State University.
Also next door is the lively established arts/loft community Castleberry Hill. Direct access to 4 MARTA stations and future Streetcar route.
Potential Site Three: Tech Square West
The third great site is at what is planned to become Tech Square West. This is the newest side of intown Atlanta growth. Adjacent to GA Tech, Bankhead MARTA Station, Atlanta BeltLine, future light rail, North Ave Smart Corridor, Westside Park at Bellwood Quarry (2019), GWCC, and under-construction sustainable Cook Park.
Also planned is a park and trail corridor along Proctor Creek, six miles long, all the way to the Chattahoochee River.
Potential Site Four: Arts Center
Another top site in the southeast, Amazon HQ2 would be built above the Arts Center Station and the last underdeveloped lots nearby, including the northeast unbuilt site at Atlantic Station. Amazon is already located here with a large expansion planned.
There is potential, though unplanned, for an infill MARTA station near Rhodes Hall at Peachtree Point. This site is adjacent to the Woodruff Arts Center including Symphony Hall, the HIGH Museum of Art, Savannah College of Art & Design, Center Stage, Atlantic Station, and the Millenium Gate Museum.
Potential Streetcar location or maybe Amazon would like a people-mover and park bridging the highway?
Potential Site Five: Armour Yards
Just north of Midtown, the fifth site would be built over MARTA’s Armour Yards, in South Buckhead. Possible Expansion into the redeveloping industrial/office area to west. This site would be adjacent to Lindbergh Center, MARTA’s largest TOD. The site straddles the Atlanta BeltLine and centers around a potential Armour MARTA Station for the planned new line to Emory University/CDC.
Potential Site Six: Atlanta Water Works / Northside Drive
Site Six flanks Atlanta Water Works’ dual reservoirs, along the north-west BeltLine from Howell Mill Rd to Northside Drive and I-75. It is just over a hill from Atlantic Station near the fast growing Westside. Northside Drive is planned to become a complete street with streetcar, bicycle and pedestrian orientation.
Potential Site Seven: Murphy’s Crossing / Adair Park
This site straddles an important part of the Atlanta BeltLine to the South of Downtown Atlanta. On the South MARTA Line.
Potential Site Eight:
Another interesting site is between Downtown and the Airport at Fort McPherson, which is in the early stages of redevelopment by Tyler Perry Studios. The site is home to a beautiful 1880’s historic district, verdant golf course and two MARTA stations.
Click on this link to see the LA Times’ video about Tyler Perry Studios at Fort McPherson, Atlanta.
Potential Site Nine:
Located with a view of midfield at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Site Nine is the center or Atlanta Aerotropolis, adjacent to Delta Airlines world headquarters. A planned MARTA line to Clayton County could stop here as well as the rental car people mover.
Potential Site Ten: Atlanta Aerotropolis NE
Adjacent to Porche HQ and new 4 star Solis Hotel, Site Ten has great neighbors. Small town Hapeville is redeveloping its Arts & Commercial district next door. The Clayton County MARTA Line will go right by here for potential MARTA access, as well as potential Airport People Mover expansion through the site.
Potential Site Eleven: Airport City /College Park
is many, many things–
but the one thing it is not,
It is not done yet.
We love Atlanta because we feel that we can make a difference.
We believe that we can all help improve and build Atlanta.
Amazon and Atlanta could create great synergy and amazing sustainable growth together.