Here’s one takeaway from this whole Amazon HQ2 deal: in a sprawling, inconsistently developed region like Dallas, when a massive corporation announces it needs a place to set up shop, Dallas-Fort Worth offers plenty of options and space.
After the neighborhood wooing had already reached the level of parody, yet another part of town has a proposed new home for the Seattle company: the former site of Reunion Area, which has sat vacant for 8 years as Hunt Realty Investments figures out a future use. Reunion’s Amazon proposal, which the DMN reports on today, includes the soon-to-be vacated Dallas Morning News property, city owned parking lots behind the News, and Union Station, which Hunt current leases from the city. The bid, its drafters say, fits many of the sought-after criteria, including access to public transit (though, thankfully, not access to the recently killed Trinity Toll Road).
To which I say, sure, fine, whatever. I mean, there are tons of places where we could imagine plopping a huge corporate relocation in Dallas. How about near-east Dallas long Main St. and Columbia? Or what about long the Trinity River north of the Design District off Irving Blvd.? Or maybe the industrial district south of Cedars near Lamar Blvd.? Or remember that design competition a few years ago that re-imagined the parking lots behind city hall? Throw it there. Or what about working Amazon into a reconfiguration of the streets connecting downtown and Deep Ellum after 345 is torn down? Or what about that land Wal-Mart is sitting on now that the Uptown Wal-Mart was defeated? How about there?
The point is, perhaps what matters most in this process is not that Dallas dreams up the perfect location for a big new corporation, but rather that Dallas’ wraps its arms around just what it is looking for in wooing Amazon. On the one hand, there is the potential of a massive corporate relocation that could help drive the future sustainable growth of the city and which could have residual economic impact on Dallas, particularly its undeserved communities. On the other hand, there is a risk, as Jim Schutze points out today, of getting so caught up in the chase for the corporate white whale that we start believing Dallas’ urban redevelopment problems and sustainability issues are fixable with a big silver bullet relocation. After all, the flip side of the quick availability of so many prime spots for Amazon is that fact that the mere existence of so many prime spots for urban re-imagining shows that Dallas is having difficulty realizing the full-potential of its urban setting on its own.
Not that the Amazon HQ2 conversation isn’t productive. It is a way to highlight particular areas of the city ripe for revitalization. It is also a way to revisit issues like public transit and mobility, and realize that, through outside eyes, the inertia of the status quo attitude towards development in North Texas may not be what the country’s leading corporations view as either attractive or sustainable.
The bid is also useful as a way to take stock of how the business community understands its own value, and gain perspective of what “regionalism” really means and how it impacts North Texas growth. I spoke with Darren Grubb at the Dallas Regional Chamber, which is the body tasked with taking all these individual bids that have surfaced — as well as the individual city and chamber proposals, needs, and desires — and packaging them into a singular regional response to the Amazon RFP.
It’s a daunting task. Grubb said the chamber is working with what sounds like just about every city and civic body south of Oklahoma and east of the Brazos, including the Fort Worth Chamber, and cities and counties throughout the region. As for what sites may be specifically proposed to the corporation, we may never know. The chamber will not release the bid or the potential locations it pitches to Amazon before or after it is submitted.
Why not release the proposal? Grubb says it is just the way these things are done. But then, this Amazon deal is also a very complicated political hot potato. It mirrors how decision making is done at DART, at the North Central Texas Council of Governments, or that body’s Regional Transportation Council, or any of the other regionally minded bodies that make important decisions about steering the direction of North Texas’ growth. As the multiplicity of homegrown Amazon bid proposals attests, everyone wants a piece of the Amazon pie. One presumes that, according to the implicit logic of regional compromise that has shaped the policy direction of these other bodies, perhaps the only way to please everyone in this scenario is to spread out the love — make sure a bid tries to offer a little bit of benefit to as many people as possible.
An Amazon headquaters in Fort Worth, Alliance, southern Dallas, Frisco, or at the former site of Reunion Arena would mean vastly different things for the future of the region. Which one would be the best? Which one is best suited to win the bid? Would any of these options be a disaster? Perhaps it doesn’t matter as along as everyone feels they have a shot. It’s how things are typically done in North Texas: spread out the love. It’s the perfect way to design a city that boasts so many under-realized, underdeveloped, under-served urban areas ripe for the imagined windfall that might come some day by reeling in a corporate behemoth.