If Amazon can be persuaded to consider the Twin Cities for its second headquarters, local real estate professionals say there are plenty of sites that could meet the company’s demands, ranging from a suburban gravel pit to a three-block area in downtown Minneapolis.
The bigger questions: Can the metro provide enough workers? And would public officials ante up the kind of incentives necessary to land this juggernaut of economic development deals?
“We don’t have a track record of delivering the type of incentive packages that have been used to attract auto plants, Foxconn and those types of things in other states,” said Brent Erickson, executive director of Cushman & Wakefield’s office in Minneapolis. “So we’re going to have to play the game that everybody else is playing.”
Equally concerning, according to some real estate officials, are economic forecasts that show the state will be short some 40,000 workers in just a few years. Amazon said the new campus it proposed this week will employ up to 50,000 full-time workers, with average annual compensation topping $100,000.
“You can build the most incredible facility, but if you don’t have the right folks to operate it, the real estate becomes a very secondary concern,” said Tony Barranco, vice president of development at Ryan Cos. “And I think this is going to be awarded based on the depth of human talent a community can provide.”
Like other real estate professionals, Barranco said landing Amazon will require a full-court press from state and local officials, who will have to come together with a package that can compete with other states.
Gov. Mark Dayton said earlier this week that he has directed the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) to work with city, regional and state partners on a response to the Amazon proposal. DEED is working with Greater MSP, a regional nonprofit, to deliver a bid by Oct. 19, Amazon’s deadline.
Dayton met Friday with DEED Commissioner Shawntera Hardy and Greater MSP CEO Michael Langley to discuss the state’s response.
In a statement, Hardy said the three “discussed how to best partner to highlight the assets that have made Minnesota one of the best states for business: our world-class workforce, an innovative economy and a high quality of life.” Hardy said discussing other parts of Minnesota’s anticipated proposal would be “inappropriate at this time.”
Jim Durda, executive vice president of Zeller Realty Group, said there is a “ton of space” in the Twin Cities that could meet Amazon’s demands, including sites in downtown Minneapolis, St. Paul and inner-ring suburbs. The company is seeking up to 8 million square feet of space, which would be equal to creating nearly six IDS Centers, the tallest building in Minnesota.
Durda said it would be possible to fit a high-rise campus into three blocks in downtown Minneapolis that would be close to the light-rail system and all of the other amenities that attract millennials, including diverse cultural offerings, high-quality residential units and restaurants.
Erickson said his favorite site is vacant property near the Minneapolis Farmers Market, on the fringe of downtown west of Target Stadium. That site was also considered for a new soccer stadium in 2015 and also could be connected to the light-rail system.
Given Amazon’s sprawling campus in downtown Seattle, local real estate experts believe the company would prefer an urban setting for its new headquarters. But they noted there are plenty of suburban sites that could work, including a Maple Grove gravel pit that sits near new retail and residential development.
“It’s one of the largest sites in the 494/694 loop,” said Jim Damiani, executive managing director of Newmark Knight Frank in Minneapolis. “It’s right on the freeway and there are hundreds of acres left for development.”
State Rep. Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, who is running for governor, has suggested the former Ford plant property in St. Paul, which sprawls 122 acres, or the 427-acre Arden Hills armory site as possibilities.
Though the Twin Cities’ labor shortage is a handicap, real estate professionals said it may not be insurmountable, especially since other contenders will also find it difficult to supply up to 50,000 highly qualified workers.
“No matter where Amazon goes, they will have a worker shortage,” Durda said. “And no matter where they go, people will flock to them.”