Chamber unveils Amazon designs, not financial incentives

This rendering, prepared for the Harrisburg Regional Chamber & CREDC, shows what an Amazon.com campus on the former Harrisburg State Hospital site could look like, chamber officials said. The rendering was created as part of the agency's proposal to the online retailer to build its "HQ2" in Dauphin County, and displayed at a press conference about the proposal, which has been submitted. - (Photo / Roger DuPuis)

We now know what an Amazon.com campus in Dauphin County could look like, but details on what it might cost to bring such a facility here are still a secret.

Roger DuPuis

Officials with the Harrisburg Regional Chamber and Capital Region Economic Development Corp. (CREDC) on Thursday hosted a press conference to talk about their pitch to Amazon to bring “HQ2,” as its proposed second headquarters have been dubbed, to the former Harrisburg State Hospital site.

Joined by representatives from Dauphin County, the City of Harrisburg and Susquehanna Township, chamber President and CEO Dave Black announced that the agency’s bid had been submitted to Amazon in hard copy earlier this week, ahead of Thursday’s deadline.

But they would not release the document itself, citing competition and the proprietary nature of some details contained in the proposal.

What we do know:

• The 140-page bid focused only on the former hospital complex, a site currently owned by the state Department of General Services, which is located off Cameron Street straddling the city and Susquehanna Township.

While Black previously had said that other sites might be included in the bid, in the end there simply was not enough time to do so, he said Thursday, and the chamber felt the bid would be stronger by focusing on one location.

“Amazon specifically requested a site proposal,” he said. “We submitted one site, with great connectivity to downtown, transportation with infrastructure to support the project, reuse of existing buildings and new construction.”

What we don’t know:

• What kind of tax incentive package state and local officials might offer Amazon, which says it will invest $5 billion on its new headquarters and create 50,000 jobs.

Black said it was premature to discuss specifics of any such plan, and that given the competitive nature of the bidding process, “I am not at liberty to say” how the chamber’s proposal even handled that topic.

With other states and municipalities offering billions of dollars in tax incentives to lure Amazon — and discussing the terms publicly, in some cases — Black did acknowledge that “there is no existing (state) program that could cover” a tax incentive as large as that which the Amazon campus would require.

Such details would be hammered out with individual municipalities and taxing bodies once Amazon committed to the site, Black said.

Susquehanna Township commissioner Frank Lynch told the Business Journal that his community has not yet had formal discussions about tax incentives for Amazon, and that it is premature to do so.

Separately, township officials have been discussing whether to consider an overall tax abatement plan under the state’s Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance Act program, known as LERTA, Lynch added.

Whether or not Harrisburg lands HQ2, Black and others who spoke Thursday said the exercise is a learning experience for the region — and a chance to extol its virtues.

“Unless you try to do things, nothing’s going to happen, nothing’s going to change,” Black said.

Jackie Parker, Harrisburg’s director of community and economic development, said the bid helps underscore how the region has amenities to attract the coveted Millennial demographic.

“Everything you could want is right here and we didn’t even have to use any gimmicks like Tucson,” she said, referencing how the Arizona city sent Amazon a giant cactus as part of its bid.

Black said the chamber spent about $10,000 on outside services for the bid — not counting staff hours — which included renderings of how an Amazon campus could look and a “micro” website, with drone images, as part of the pitch.

The renderings were on display Thursday, but the website — like the proposal — was not disclosed.

A final decision by Amazon is expected in 2018.

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