Tom Sherwood’s Notebook: Alexa … find D.C., please … !


New development clustered on both sides of the Anacostia River near Nationals Park is one of the District’s four pitches for an Amazon headquarters. (rendering courtesy of D.C. government)

It seems that every jurisdiction in America — maybe except Mayberry, N.C. — wants to be home to Amazon’s second headquarters.

The District of Columbia this week released four potential sites for the headquarters that could consume up to 8 million square feet of office space. (That’s nearly 10 times the space being taken up by the gigantic Fannie Mae development downtown at 15th and L streets NW.)

“This is literally one of the biggest economic development opportunities in the last 30 years or so,” said Brian Kenner, deputy mayor for economic development.

Mayor Muriel Bowser told NBC4 on Monday that the District’s booming local economy, growing and youthful population and its infrastructure all make D.C. a serious contender despite the competition.

“We’re transit-friendly. Urban in nature,” Bowser said. “They also want their employees to walk, bike to get to work. And I think we have very distinct sites.”

The mayor even did a little promotional video, asking Amazon’s Alexa app what’s the best location for Amazon’s second headquarters? Its answer: D.C., of course.

And before everyone gets too woozy thinking about Amazon and its potential 50,000 jobs, let’s put a harder face on the proposal right now.

Amazon will be looking for tax incentives from whatever jurisdiction is selected.

“We are going to make a pitch to a 50,000-person employment opportunity,” Bowser said in response to NBC4. “But we won’t sell the farm to do it.”

Ward 2 D.C. Council member Jack Evans, chair of the Committee on Finance and Revenue, noted that he and former at-large member David Catania sponsored a tax reform law “long ago” in 2001 that included high-tech tax incentives.

“It has a lot of property tax and a lot of income tax breaks for high-tech companies that come to the city, and Amazon falls right in it,” Evans said. “The incentives are there. We could certainly add to them based on whatever they are trying to accomplish. We will have the best incentive package for Amazon, I believe, than any jurisdiction in America. Most of it already is in place.”

The four D.C. sites include the Anacostia River waterfront at Poplar Point and Buzzard Point; a “Capitol East” site near RFK Memorial Stadium; an area north of Union Station; and a more in-town location near Shaw and Howard University.

Washington’s business communities foresee a multiplier effect if Amazon were to negotiate a deal with D.C.

“Wherever they go, jobs follow,” said Leona Agouridis of the Golden Triangle Business Improvement District, which covers a section of downtown just northwest of the White House. “More innovative businesses follow [Amazon] around. I think it would be wonderful for the city and the region to have Amazon here.”

Still, if you thought construction of the convention center, the basketball and hockey arena and the ballpark were controversial, well, you haven’t seen nothing yet. The demand for reasonable “community benefits” will be off the charts. A balance will have to be struck. And debates over the Amazon deal, if the company were to come here for its second headquarters, could be followed by a move to have the Washington Redskins return to the RFK area.

But your Notebook notes, it’s always better to have headaches over development than to try propping up a dying city.

Areas across the country are hoping to land Amazon, but the District also is competing regionally with Maryland, where Gov. Larry Hogan is pitching a site near Baltimore and Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker is recommending his urban jurisdiction.

In Virginia, Gov. Terry McAuliffe has mentioned Richmond and Virginia Beach, but says Northern Virginia surely has a site that meets Amazon’s criteria. “I believe for sure that we will have four or five locations bid,” McAuliffe told WTOP in late September.

Evans, who also is chairman of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority board, predicts that Metro access will be a big factor in choosing a location — despite the system’s financial woes. “I think we have the best sites in the United States right here in the District of Columbia, and we have four great ones,” he said.

What about Metro? A company with the heft of Amazon also could help the region break through its provincial battles and reach a compromise on a dedicated source of funding for Metro.

Maryland Gov. Hogan has called on Evans to resign as Metro chairman. So has Virginia Rep. Gerry Connolly. Both suburban leaders say Evans has been too polarizing in his constant criticisms of Maryland and Virginia and their failures to come up with viable spending plans for Metro.

On Monday, Evans told NBC4, “I’m not going anywhere.”

“What I’m trying to do with Metro is get the three jurisdictions — the District’s on board, so it’s really Maryland and Virginia — to pay for Metro,” he told us. “As you know, Tom, I’m running into obstacles everywhere.”

But Evans said he’d be willing to leave the board if everyone got serious about funding the subway. “In 2005 a report was issued saying a 1-cent sales tax should be implemented to finance Metro,” he said. “Twelve years later, nothing’s done. So my job as chairman of the board is to continue to keep the pressure on.

“Now, I will say this. If Maryland and Virginia and the District tomorrow passed a law putting a 1-cent sales tax in place, I’ll quit immediately. That’s my challenge to them. Pass the tax, I’ll be out of here.”

Tom Sherwood, a Southwest resident, is a political reporter for News 4.