Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey’s March 16, 2019 closing remarks following the Board’s unanimous vote to approve a performance agreement with Amazon for HQ2.
The Route One corridor is, by design, where our smart growth principles marry mixed-use density in a transit-rich area. It is where we have planned for growth, where we generate revenues to support the range of policies and investments that make Arlington, Arlington.
Yet for the better part of this century, Crystal City and Pentagon City have been in distress. The corridor’s potential to serve as an engine of growth has been stunted by a hemorrhaging of jobs, a lack of the connectivity our modern multi—modal sensibilities demands, and aging, functionally obsolete office buildings.
Our community developed ambitious plans for this area. The County, and private developers, made significant investments in infrastructure and amenities that are creating a new look and better functionality.
What has been missing is the catalyzing investment to restore jobs, to realize our plans and to fill offices; the sort of large-scale investment in new construction that would create a market for the adaptive reuse of buildings.
Now we have a plan for growth to complement our land use plans.
25,000 – up to nearly 39,000 — jobs fit into our existing plans. 4-6 million square feet of planned development allows ample room for Amazon without necessitating displacement of existing businesses.
We know that Amazon will have an impact on housing, transportation and schools. I am confident that we can manage those impacts.
I believe that the impact on housing in our community will be limited, because most of Amazon’s employees will either already live here, or will choose to live elsewhere in our region. And we know that our region has great absorptive capacity.
That said, we must be able to respond where displacement pressures occur, and to encourage and invest in growing the housing supply to meet expected demand, and to reduce current un-affordability.
The impact on transportation will be mitigated by the significant resources this project brings to promoting transit by increasing access to rail and providing increased utility for bus. Additionally, it will be easier for people to use active transportation throughout the area including via a new connection to the airport. The investments that are being funded by the Commonwealth will help Metro—which has significant capacity to carry many riders to Pentagon City and Crystal City. Amazon will be a partner in encouraging transit, and that will be good for our community and the region.
We also know that the influx of students into our schools, while limited, may increase pressures in some areas of our County and may require new, creative approaches to solve capacity challenges.
While much of our engagement has focused on addressing potential negative impacts, it’s important to understand why incentives for HQ2 are worth it.
The relatively modest incentives the County is providing were offered to create the conditions for all Arlingtonians to thrive. Net revenues from this project will ease the pressure of tight budgets, where insufficient resources leave worthwhile efforts inadequately addressed.
New revenues generated by this project will help us combat displacement. We will begin soon to explore new tools to preserve housing that moderate-income earners can afford, and to encourage the creation of housing to meet the needs of our diverse community.
Temporary jobs, I expect, will employ high-road strategies to provide safe, dignified, family-sustaining work, and the permanent workforce will provide pathways for experts in tech, and a host of other corporate functions. Our educated workforce may find these jobs an opportunity for career advancement and security, and we must prepare as many Arlingtonians as are interested to land those jobs.
With all these workers comes demand for restaurants, retail and services that can provide new opportunities for the entrepreneurial among us.
The Commonwealth is investing up to $750 million in Amazon. It is not unreasonable that Arlington contribute as well. Yet I’m proud that our incentive identifies a direct area of potential growth in revenue generated by Amazon, and agrees to pay the company a modest increment of that growth, only if it materializes, and only if Amazon builds the specified square footage and fills it with workers. And, I should note that the incentive when calculated as a cost per square foot Occupied is—by far—the most cost-effective incentive we have ever negotiated, and the Return on Investment, at nearly 14:1, is nearly 3 times better that the average of previous deals.
This will not be our last Amazon conversation. The work will now truly begin. But managing the growth with new tools, new resources and good jobs puts us in a much better position than managing a relative lack of investment without the tools or resources to respond to overwhelming market forces leaving many facing rising income and housing insecurity.