By Kiera Blessing firstname.lastname@example.org –
With an Oct. 19 deadline fast approaching, Lawrence, Methuen, Haverhill and Andover, led by North Andover, are feverishly working to complete their bid for Amazon’s second world headquarters.
The online marketplace giant announced in early September that it was seeking a new location that will employ 50,000 people and cost $5 billion to build or renovate. North Andover announced at the end of last month that it would tout the mostly empty Osgood Landing as its primary site for Amazon, but the plot is not large enough to house the entire complex. Last week, leaders from each city and town identified the sites they will pitch as satellite locations to augment North Andover’s hub.
The largest sites include the old Polartec site in Methuen, Broadway and Hilldale business parks in Haverhill, the vacant Tombarello site in Lawrence and space near Hewlett-Packard off Dascomb Road in Andover.
Also being considered for the bid are regional amenities like hydroelectric power generators in Lawrence and the potential to link most of the communities — North Andover, Andover, Haverhill and Lawrence — by pre-existing rail lines.
“It’s too soon to say which (sites) we’ll focus on. It doesn’t mean all of them won’t be part of the proposal, but that’s what we’re trying to figure out,” said Eric Kfoury, director of community and economic development in North Andover. About 15 to 20 sites are being considered for the bid, which is being written by Octagon Strategy Group in Boston.
Kfoury and Karen Conard, the executive director of the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission, showed two representatives from Octagon around the region on Sept. 27, meeting with planning directors in each city or town to discuss the available space there and see each municipality’s amenities.
“The consultants were getting a feel for the region itself,” Kfoury said. “The purpose of the tour was, in addition to seeing the sites, to get a sense of, OK, how are you going to house these workers?”
In addition to the Osgood Landing site, North Andover is also offering up some parcels along its Route 125 corridor and a potential site along Route 114 that Kfoury said was being considered, but declined to identify. The proposal will also likely highlight the proximity of Lawrence Municipal Airport, which, while owned by Lawrence, sits within North Andover’s borders, Kfoury said.
Across the river, Lawrence identified the potential at 207 Marston St., the former site of John C. Tombarello & Sons Salvage Co. The plot is owned by the city now and underwent extensive cleanup last year to remove pollutants left in the soil and groundwater. The city is also touting large available parcels at the former Showcase site on Route 114 and in the mills and empty lots along the Riverwalk.
“The idea is there’s a level of vibrancy there (along the Riverwalk) and sufficient amount of capacity for additional build out,” said Abel Vargas, Lawrence’s director of business and economic development.
Vargas said he’s also been advertising the hydroelectric power still being produced in Lawrence, noting Amazon’s “desire to be a green company.”
Continuing north, Methuen’s director of economic and community development, William Buckley, said the city has plenty of open space available for construction in its west end, off Route 113.
“There are no specific parcels in mind at this time, but there’s acreage at that end of town that … would have opportunities not to house the whole campus, but clearly could have opportunities for satellites,” Buckley said.
Methuen is also contemplating the possibility of ushering Amazon into the old Polartec site on Broadway. Though it was auctioned off in May, Buckley said the sale has not been completed and “it’s unknown at this time if that property will become available.”
The city is also in the midst of a housing boom, which includes about 10 projects, from apartment complexes to single-family-home neighborhoods, that are in planning stages, under construction, or recently completed.
“We’re sharing the housing growth that Methuen has been experiencing,” Buckley said. “It’s important that we highlight the opportunity to house the workers and provide quality schools and quality communities where people want to live.”
Moving eastward, Haverhill is pitching the open space in its business parks as prime locations for a satellite campus. Nate Robertson, the city’s assistant director of economic development, said the Broadway and Hilldale business parks have “over 200 acres of continuous space” available and noted their “direct access” to Interstate 495 and Hilldale’s proximity to commuter rail tracks.
“While there are downtown options, we feel that large undeveloped sites that already have the proper zoning and infrastructure would be the most attractive (to) Amazon given their need for a large footprint,” Robertson said in an email.
South of Osgood Landing, Andover has several available sites. One is along Lowell Junction Road, or Route 125; another lies between Interstate 93 and Minuteman Drive, along River Road; and another undeveloped parcel along Dascomb Road is owned by Hewlett-Packard, according to Director of Planning Paul Materazzo.
While local planners are quick to point to the region’s strengths — rail lines, comfortable communities, cultural and recreational options, proximity to Boston, beaches and mountains, a strong business climate with the likes of Raytheon and New Balance — Amazon said it would prefer a metropolitan setting, and the Valley has steep competition.
Hundreds of municipalities across North America — and a few in Massachusetts, including Boston — are expected to submit their own bids, and the Valley will have to consider potential consequences of inserting 50,000 skilled laborers in the region, as Amazon has said.
“We know we’re a good place to be,” Kfoury said. “At the end of the day, it’s Amazon’s call.”