St. Louis Scours City for Potential Amazon HQ Sites

Twenty-seven different sites in Missouri and Illinois are being considered in the regional bid for Amazon's second HQ.

by Mark Schlinkmann, St. Louis Post-Dispatch / September 29, 2017

(TNS) -- With more than two dozen St. Louis-area locations in play as potential sites for Amazon’s $5 billion second headquarters, an effort is underway to get leaders from across the region to agree on a single submission to the e-commerce giant.

Jim Wild, executive director of the East-West Gateway Council of Governments, said Thursday he’s trying to set up a meeting of the council’s board to consider whatever is recommended next week by the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership.

The partnership, which is funded by St. Louis and St. Louis County, is taking the lead on developing a plan and is reviewing more than 27 sites in Missouri and Illinois for possible inclusion in a regional bid.

The list, released Thursday, includes sites in an area cited by partnership CEO Sheila Sweeney as a major possibility for Amazon: downtown St. Louis and the city’s north riverfront.

Sweeney added that the site selection team is seriously considering linking those St. Louis sites with vacant land in East St. Louis just across the Mississippi River in a joint proposal to Amazon.

“It’s creative, it’s regional, it shows cooperation, light rail is there,” Sweeney said.

However, she said “it’s premature to say it’s the leading possibility until we have all the data in and analyzed.”

The plan would include a soon-to-be-empty, 44-story AT&T tower that would help meet one of Amazon’s requirements: at least 500,000 square feet of existing office space needed from the start. The AT&T building, which has more than 1 million square feet available, opened in 1986.

The site consideration list was released by St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann.

Ehlmann also released the scoring system being used by the St. Louis-St. Louis County agency to rank the locations on various points Amazon says it will consider. The actual rankings have yet to be completed.

Ehlmann at an East-West Gateway board meeting on Wednesday had expressed concern about how the partnership was conducting its research and had asked for information on the weighting.

He said he wants to make sure sites in his county are being fairly considered. He also questioned how an agency working for St. Louis and St. Louis County could speak for the entire metro area and who would sign off on its findings.

The potential site list includes eight in St. Charles County, including one proposed by St. Charles along the Missouri River near the Bangert Island recreation area.

Another in Ehlmann’s county is across Highway 40 (Interstate 64) from the WingHaven development in O’Fallon, Mo.

The list also includes, among others, the North Park-Express Scripts area and Plumbers and Pipefitters Union complex in north St. Louis County, midtown St. Louis near St. Louis University, the old MetLife campus in south St. Louis County, the former Chrysler plant site in Fenton and the old Monsanto plant and Pruitt-Igoe sites in St. Louis.

Metro East locations include sites in Edwardsville, Collinsville, O’Fallon and Pontoon Beach.

Seeking an endorsement from East-West Gateway’s 24-person board, which includes the heads of the region’s main Missouri and Illinois counties and other members, could be a way of getting buy-in from more than just St. Louis and St. Louis County.

“We’re working in that direction,” Wild said. “That’s what we want it to be.”

One official from another part of the area — St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern — earlier this month had said his county was planning to make its own pitch to Amazon.

On Thursday, however, Kern said “it’s appearing pretty clearly to us that partnering with the rest of the St. Louis region is going to be the best way to land Amazon.”

Kern said he’s been meeting with partnership officials about the idea of a plan involving downtown St. Louis and East St. Louis. “I personally believe that kind of approach is the best chance the region has,” Kern said.

But the mayor of the metro area’s second-largest municipality — Bill Hennessy of O’Fallon, Mo. — said his city probably will send in a proposal on its own to Amazon, although a final decision has yet to be made.

Meanwhile, a top official in Gov. Eric Greitens’ administration — chief operating officer Drew Erdmann — said the state is committed to helping the St. Louis and Kansas City areas be as competitive as possible in the competition to land Amazon, including “robust and creative incentive packages.”

But he said administration officials do not believe a special session of the Legislature is needed in “this initial phase” of Amazon’s selection process. Sweeney has said efforts would be made to get Greitens to call one.

“As Missouri proposals advance and as Amazon’s requirements become more specific, we will keep all options on the table to continue to be competitive,” Erdmann said.

The partnership’s weighting formula assigns different amounts of points for meeting different Amazon requests, with a maximum of 141 possible points.

For example, staffers could give a site anywhere from 1 to 24 points in four categories — its economic impact and potential for catalytic change; proximity to a highway and major arterial streets; proximity to the region’s population center and how close it is to St. Louis Lambert International Airport.

Ten points each could be assigned if a site meets Amazon’s building and space requirements and if it meets Amazon’s request for sustainable, energy-efficient buildings.

Locations with access to mass transit such as MetroLink and bus service would get 5 or 10 points.

The formula assigns 5 points each for strong cellphone coverage, optimal fiber connectivity and having the infrastructure needed to meet Amazon development timelines.

Ehlmann said there inevitably will be many localities losing out in the decision-making process on what to turn in to Amazon, which has encouraged competing metro areas across the country to send in just one proposal apiece.

“The thing I need to tell my people is it’s a fair process,” he said. He also said he wants to try to set a precedent for deciding future regionwide development bids.

Amazon has set a deadline of Oct. 19 for submittals. Sweeney has said she wants a decision on the area’s plan by Tuesday or Wednesday to allow time to package it effectively.

©2017 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.