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Boston to Amazon: Pick Suffolk Downs

The doomed racetrack is the primary bid for HQ2, Walsh says.

Photo (Cropped) by bradfordst219 on Flickr/Creative Commons

Today’s the day. Cities hoping to land the biggest corporate prize in recent memory, the $5 billion gigantic second headquarters for Amazon dubbed HQ2, are submitting their bids to the e-commerce giant. And the message from Boston is clear: Pick Suffolk Downs.

The soon-to-be former racetrack straddling East Boston and Revere will be the city’s primary bid for the building and the reported 50,000 jobs it would support, officials are now saying. It’s only one of four pitches from Boston, but this is the pitch, Mayor Marty Walsh suggested to WBUR’s Meghna Chakrabarti on Wednesday. “The main structure of our document is focused around one location,” Walsh says, “And that’s East Boston.”

Asked to confirm that meant Suffolk Downs, he reportedly winked.

The 161-acre site sits along the Blue Line and is a short trip away from Logan Airport. It is also, clearly, ripe for development and among the few locales in Greater Boston that could realistically be home to a project on the scale Amazon has proposed. The other locations included in the Boston bid are Widett Circle (a site you may remember as the proposed home of an Olympic Village), along with spots in Allston and South Station.

Walsh says Boston’s bid does not currently include incentives like tax breaks and other goodies because “we didn’t have to.” He added, “we talked about where we are in Boston—our quality of life, we talk a lot a lot of different things in the package. We’ll see what happens.” That could change, he said, if Boston is added to Amazon’s shortlist and officials have time to assess “what we’re up against.”

The issue of incentives has been divisive. Recent polling showed that while a majority in Boston support bringing Amazon here, residents are evenly split on whether to offer giveaways. Walsh opponents, including City Councilor and mayoral candidate Tito Jackson, have criticized the city’s willingness to offer incentives to General Electric.

Other cities are pretty much falling over themselves to get in Amazon’s good graces. Strategies include grand gestures (New York City lit up its landmarks last night in “Amazon orange”); insult comedy (New Hampshire’s bid includes jabs about how crappy Boston traffic and transit are, and how expensive housing is); and your garden variety buckets of cash (Worcester offering an exceedingly generous package that includes $500 million in real estate tax savings).

Somerville has proposed a spread-out Amazon campus along the Orange Line. Marlborough, Foxborough, Leominster, Fall River, Weymouth, Lynn, and Springfield are all submitting pitches, as are Connecticut, Rhode Island, and even Maine. New Hampshire is pitching a huge campus in Londonderry. Lowell, Tewksbury, and Billerica are bidding as a unit.

The odds seem good that Amazon is already eyeing Boston. The city has appeared on most observers’ shortlists, including one created by the New York Times, even if it did suggest that Amazon pick Denver instead. Amazon has also already invested pretty considerably here, with outposts in Kendall Square, Back Bay, and, soon, Fort Point. Experts here have touted our proximity to colleges, tech talent, and other major conglomerates like GE. They’ve also shown they’re not above taunts: “Why have stale mass-produced bleached bread in Denver,” Jesse M. Keenan, of the Harvard Graduate School of Design, has argued, “when you can have a fresh local scone, steamed bun, bolillos, or soda bread in Boston?”


Spencer Buell Staff Writer at Boston Magazine sbuell@bostonmagazine.com


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