Somerville contends to host second Amazon headquarters

The headquarters of Amazon, recently constructed and located in Seattle, Washington, is pictured. (Courtesy Joe Wolf / Flickr)

The City of Somerville sent in a bid last month to host Amazon’s planned second headquarters, proposing a transit-oriented campus running through areas of Somerville, Cambridge, Boston, Everett, Chelsea and Medford.

Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone’s proposal to host the headquarters competes against bids offered by more than 200 cities across the country, including Boston’s proposal for a campus at Suffolk Downs.

The proposed Somerville campus, named “Amazon on the T,” would be located on several sites woven together by the MBTA’s Green Line and Orange Line.

“The Amazon on the T concept is is one of inclusivity: it recognizes that invention and creation do not stop within the boundaries of a district or neighborhood, just as a sense of place can easily flow across municipalities,” Curtatone wrote in a forward to the bid.

Curtatone also voiced the hope that Amazon would set a “new standard for corporate citizenship.”

“We invite [Amazon] to join us in pursuing an equitable vision for our future that will help lift up all in our communities,” Curtatone said.

Amazon’s second headquarters, according to the company’s specifications, will need more than 8 million square feet to accommodate up to 50,000 employees. Amazon is expecting to invest $5 billion in its construction.

Joe Lynch, co-host of Somerville Community Access Television’s Greater Somerville program, voiced concern that of those 50,000 new job openings, the majority of them could be at executive levels or require masters degrees. Amazon anticipates that the average annual compensation of employees at its new headquarters will exceed $100,000, according to the company’s request for proposals.

“That would be my fear, because then that feeds the beast here in the city,” Lynch said. “Now I [would] have people coming in at 125, 155 or 180 thousand dollars a year and they want to live close to where they work, so they’re buying property in Somerville, which exacerbates the affordable housing issue.”

Rand Wilson, communications and policy director of Massachusetts-based Service Employees International Union Local 888, was similarly concerned that more skilled positions could be displaced by workers from outside of Somerville. However, he also wondered if the lower-skilled jobs made available by Amazon would offer mixed benefits for the city.

“The impression I got is that Amazon’s looking to get the cheapest labor possible, they’re anti-union, anti-collective bargaining and most of the jobs that they seem to be creating [nationwide] are in the minimum wage or just above minimum wage categories,” Wilson said. “They use a large number of temps, of subcontractors, so are these really the kinds of jobs that our community needs?”

A 2014 TIME article described Amazon’s attempts to thwart union organization within the company.

Also, for a development project with the scope of a second Amazon headquarters, the city’s current housing and employment issues would need to be given significant attention, Wilson insisted.

“A proposal of this size and scale is hard to fathom, but for those of us that live in Somerville, we have a housing crisis and we don’t have enough local hiring, where people can easily walk, bike or take a short bus ride or car ride to work … in the community where they live,” Wilson said. “We want to look at the impact [of a project such as Amazon HQ2] on affordable housing in the city and the impact on the opportunities for local people to get local jobs.”

The proposal to Amazon is a piece of a larger rebranding effort by Curtatone’s administration, senior Emily Lin believes.

“I think that’s Somerville selling its soul to Big Internet. It’s not surprising,” Lin said. “I think Somerville is trying to rebrand itself as a city that’s attractive to young professionals in the tech industry and I think they believe that having Amazon headquarters here would do that.”

Tom Acitelli, editor of real estate blog Curbed Boston, believes that the number of bids submitted by Massachusetts could hamstring the whole state’s individual efforts, rather than providing Amazon with options and cities with autonomy. The state proposal, submitted by Governor Charlie Baker’s administration, highlights 26 different locations.

“No one community — not even Boston, the state’s largest municipality — can really host the whole HQ itself,” Acitelli said. “Imagine if the state were coordinating one grand bid for Amazon, making use of all of [the state’s] resources spread out in our geographic patchwork.”

Emily Reichert, CEO of Greentown Labs, a Somerville-based incubator for clean technology start-ups, voiced support for the city’s proposal in an email to the Daily.

“While we can understand and appreciate the anxiety residents may feel about the possibility of a major e-commerce and tech company moving to Somerville, we also know from experience how welcoming, collaborative and supportive the City and its residents are and we know that’s how they’d respond if this move were to come to fruition,”  Reichert said.

Reichert emphasized, however, that it is important that Amazon’s arrival not alter the fabric of the Somerville community.

“If a tech giant like Amazon does come to Somerville,” Reichert said, “we should start thinking more creatively around ways the city and residents could partner with the company to make sure the things that are most special and unique about Somerville, like its maker and artist community, are preserved and celebrated.”


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