Virginia forms new neighborhood for Amazon, bracing for radical change in a sleepy DC suburb

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Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam takes questions from reporters at a press conference announcing Amazon HQ2. (GeekWire Photo / Monica Nickelsburg)

ARLINGTON, Va. — Tell residents of this city that Amazon is moving into their National Landing neighborhood, and they’ll have no idea what you’re talking about, because it didn’t exist before this week.

The christening of the new neighborhood is just one of the special accommodations being made by this region for its newest corporate resident.

Top government officials, business leaders and reporters crowded into a vast, chilly warehouse Tuesday to commemorate Amazon’s decision to locate one of its two new headquarters in region. The building — like the surrounding neighborhood of Crystal City — is waiting to be transformed. That change is coming, as Amazon plans to build out its new campus and hire 25,000 new workers with an average annual salary of $150,000.

“The site where we’re standing right now will transform from an empty warehouse into a significant component of Amazon’s new headquarters,” Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam told the crowd.

On Tuesday, Amazon officially announced that its ballyhooed “HQ2” will be split between two regions, both of which are just across the river from the most powerful cities in the nation. In New York City, Amazon is planning a 25,000-person office in the Queens neighborhood of Long Island City, separated from Midtown Manhattan by the East River. Across the Potomac from Washington, D.C., Amazon will build its other “HQ2” in Northern Virginia.

The Northern Virginia campus will include parts of Crystal City, Pentagon City, and Alexandria. Government officials are rebranding Amazon’s new home as “National Landing,” a new community with a name inspired by the nearby Reagan National Airport.

The warehouse where officials gathered in celebration of Northern Virginia’s win is owned by JGB Smith, the top developer in the region. JBG Smith controls more than 8 million square feet in National Landing. Amazon will lease existing office space from JBG and purchase land for its new office.

Today, National Landing is a sleepy neighborhood near the airport, where chain hotels and 80’s-era midrise office buildings seem ready and waiting for a big anchor tenant. In some ways, it’s reminiscent of Amazon’s Seattle neighborhood, South Lake Union, before the tech giant moved in.

“Amazon coming to National Landing will help stabilize an almost 20 percent vacant office market … Amazon’s presence will diversify our economy and will anchor our growing technology sector here for decades to come,” said JGB Smith CEO Matt Kelly at the event Tuesday. “This is a total game-changer.”

Amazon already has more than 8,500 employees in Virginia and more than 2,000 in the D.C. metro region. The area is home to Amazon’s government affairs team and an Amazon Web Services operation with several thousand employees.

“After more than a year of careful consideration, we decided together that Amazon and Virginia could achieve our goals of establishing a new headquarters with strong tech talent and a stable, business-friendly environment,” said Brian Huseman, Amazon’s vice president of public policy Tuesday.

Virginia is offering a juicy incentives package in exchange for the job creation and economic boost Amazon promises. Once Amazon creates at least 25,000 jobs, the company will receive incentives of up to $22,000 per job created, capped at $550 million. If Amazon creates more than 25,000 jobs and invests up to $195 million in transportation projects in the region, the company is eligible for additional incentives up to $200 million.

Virginia plans to create incentives for its universities to build out their undergrad and graduate computer science programs to ensure a deep talent pool for Amazon. That includes a new “Innovation Campus” at Virginia Tech focused on developing tech talent.

Although the atmosphere at Tuesday’s event was celebratory, not everyone is convinced Amazon HQ2 is worth what it took to land.

Michelle Bloom is a government contractor who has lived in the D.C. area her whole life.

“I’d say the majority of my friends are unhappy about it, since it means higher prices around an already expensive town and even more limited housing,” she said. “There’s also certainly going to be more traffic, which is already tough here. Obviously, Amazon was offered tax breaks to come to the area, but it sucks because then it’s folks like us that will have to foot the bill for those for a while.”

Amazon plans to start hiring in the DC suburb next year, according to Huseman. The full agreement Amazon reached with Northern Virginia is available here.

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