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Amazon Has An Interesting Choice in Downtown and the Cedars

Let's set aside the reports that we're already out of commission. They have a lot of land right in our central business district to choose from.
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Courtesy of Seritage/OmniPlan

I wrote this story for D Brief over the weekend, our weekly email newsletter (it goes out on Sunday mornings, and you can sign up for it here, if this is your sort of thing), but it remains pertinent with all the hubbub over where Amazon’s going. The Dallas Morning News ran a front page story this morning about how, if Amazon were to spurn us, Walmart might be interested in expanding its tech presence here. (It looks like it was published online Saturday.) Yesterday, The News’ entry into the Amazon lore was asking whether we had the tech talent to support a slice of the company’s so-called HQ2. (The company is now apparently planning to split its expansion across two cities.)

All fair questions! But developers have been patching together quite the real estate deal to appeal to Amazon’s desires for a walkable, urban, connected campus. It’s in downtown, near the old Reunion Arena, south to the Cedars, where the bullet train’s terminal is expected to go. Let’s take a look.

It’s been 14 months since Amazon announced that it would be opening a second headquarters in some American city, bringing with it 50,000 jobs that pay at least six figures a year and billions of dollars in planned construction. Dallas, like every other municipality, went for it, and we’ve apparently made it this far in the discussions. But The New York Times is putting its money on a split between Long Island and Crystal City, Virginia. The newspaper quotes a pair of people who have been briefed on the matter, but include the caveat that these sorts of conversations could be happening between the retailer and other finalist cities. So, who knows?

But let’s take a look at what’s been happening in Dallas in recent months. There are a few things downtown that seem to dovetail with Amazon’s desire for connectivity and investment. Mainly: there’s room there for it.

So let’s put the bet this: if Amazon were to come here, it would be eying the Cedars and the southern portion of downtown. We know that was one of the locations pitched by the Dallas Regional Chamber—although there were dozens all over the region. But this one makes sense for connectivity purposes; there is plenty of land to take over near Reunion and the old Dallas Morning News headquarters, and most of it is owned by a trio of developers. It wouldn’t be too difficult to do some design work to better connect this pocket of downtown with the Cedars. Developer Jack Matthews is planning to develop 60 acres in the Cedars for the proposed bullet train terminus, which would come with a major mixed use development near it. The city is already preparing for that possibility, having agreed to spend some time studying a multi-modal hub for the bullet train and DART and the Trinity Railway Express, among others.

The city’s preliminary drawings include a pedestrian connection over Interstate 30 near the Kay Bailey Hutchison Dallas Convention Center as well as a deck park over the highway. There is room for hotels and condos and retail and restaurant space. Too, developer Mike Hoque and the firm KDC—which handled relocations for Toyota, State Farm, JP Morgan Chase, and Liberty Mutual—snapped up the old News ‘Rock of Truth’ building, which basically connects with the old Reunion space. Hoque also pieced together eight blocks worth of land behind City Hall that he’s proposing putting up eight towers on. It’s the largest piece of undeveloped land in the Central Business District. So Amazon would have to partner with about three owners to spread out over there. Not bad!

Crystal City, Virginia has a similar situation, where one developer owns a bunch of land and properties near the city center. And Amazon already has a strong presence in New York, so would make sense to split HQ2 between the two. But Dallas has put together a pretty strong argument itself, for better or worse. And if Amazon spurns us, there’s attractive space for other, more home-grown developments in the city center that would connect downtown with the Cedars. It’s not hard to see the city finally competing with the northern suburbs for some other corporate relocations.

But, for now, all this is speculation anyway. However, when you put together the recent movements of Matthews, Hoque, and KDC, you can start to see where this would make sense. Until the announcement, you should expect even more breathless, sourceless reports that attempt to make sense of what Amazon is doing. The Dallas Morning News is already up to 265 mentions of HQ2. That number will surely increase

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