Part of Amazon’s presence in Seattle includes large spheres and a dog park. The company has exceeded its growth projections in Seattle. Elaine Thompson AP
Part of Amazon’s presence in Seattle includes large spheres and a dog park. The company has exceeded its growth projections in Seattle. Elaine Thompson AP

Business

Amazon is a behemoth in Seattle. Could an NC city handle that kind of growth?

By Craig Jarvis

cjarvis@newsobserver.com

November 29, 2017 09:01 AM

Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle has grown so rapidly that some see it as a cautionary tale for all those states and cities competing to land HQ2.

Not everywhere can accommodate the potential size of a second headquarters, according to BuildZoom, a home renovation site that uses data to find contractors for clients and to study housing and construction markets. It used a database of building permits to track Amazon’s footprint over the past decade.

The analysis was released Wednesday morning.

The retail giant planted its headquarters in Seattle in 1998 with 190,000 square feet of operations. Since 2007, when it moved its headquarters into several other buildings, more than $1.9 billion in building permits have been issued for Amazon office space in more than 45 buildings.

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That has stretched to nearly 13.6 million square feet – already surpassing last year’s projection that it would reach 12 million square feet by 2022, according to the study.

That’s the size of more than 18 PNC Plazas, the tallest tower building in downtown Raleigh, including condos, parking and additional space. It would fill the Empire State Building five times over.

“A campus of this magnitude will not be easy for any city to accommodate except for the very largest,” BuildZoom’s chief economist, Issi Romem, said in the report. “Amazon will likely build new office buildings, as it did in Seattle, but will likely also snap up significant square footage in existing office space, especially in its earlier stages of growth.

“Amazon will likely reduce vacancy rates, crowd out other tenants and drive up office rents, especially in the short run. In the longer run, Amazon will expand the office supply and, more generally, help deepen the talent pool.”

Amazon has said it needs up to 8 million square feet to the establish a second headquarters, which would also draw up to 50,000 jobs over time and invest $5 billion. Company officials have stressed that this growth will occur over almost two decades, but they also have said its HQ2 will operate as a full headquarters, not just a satellite of Seattle’s operations.

Ryan Combs of the Research Triangle Regional Partnership, which put together the Triangle’s proposal, said this area is well equipped to handle that growth and more – if the retail giant’s second headquarters mirrors the growth of its first.

“A significant advantage in our region’s proposal allows for dispersement of space needs, easily exceeding the square footage occupied in Seattle,” Combs said.

“The Research Triangle Park would have 2 million square feet available within six months should the region win the bid, and they could easily accommodate the future square footage needs. Raleigh can currently build out over 10 million square feet of Class A office space on developer-controlled sites, and could build out an additional 10 million square feet with future entitlements. Chatham Park plans to develop 22 million square feet of non-residential space. The bottom line is the Research Triangle region could easily accommodate all future needs of Amazon.”

The Research Triangle Regional Partnership, which is an association of economic developers, hopes this video they produced promoting life in the Triangle will help woo Amazon to the area.

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Amazon received four proposals from North Carolina: the Triangle, Charlotte region, Triad and Hickory. The Research Triangle Regional Partnership’s proposal featured seven sites, including three in Durham. One of those sites – the planned Go Triangle transit station site at N.C. 15-501 and Interstate 40 inside the city limits – would not be big enough to accommodate 8.1 million square feet, according to emails obtained from Durham officials through a public records request.

The other sites, both in Research Triangle Park, are the GSK campus, with more than 400 acres; and Park Center, an office complex that includes some of the former Nortel campus. Officials have not said where the other four Triangle sites are located.

The company is expected to select a site next year from more than 200 proposals, including the four from North Carolina.

Craig Jarvis: 919-829-4576, @CraigJ_NandO

How many offices would it take to fill an Amazon HQ?

BuildZoom calculated how many of these prominent office buildings would be needed to match Amazon’s 13.6 million square feet in Seattle.

18.6

PNC Plaza

Raleigh

729,998 sq. ft.

31.5

Two Hannover Square

Raleigh

430,998

73.4

University Tower

Durham

184,969

69.3

Durham Centre

Durham

195,911

88.7

One City Center

Durham

153,023

106.7

Brinkhous-Bullitt Bldg

Chapel Hill

127,268

60.5

Mary Ellen Jones Bldg

Chapel Hill

224,364