Business & Finance

Not So Fast Newark; Mayor Says Somerville Ideal Home for Amazon HQ2

5b45261c16c96dde0d35_sompixnewarkamazon.jpg
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, center, with Sen. Cory Booker, right, and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka at the Rutgers Business School in Newark on Monday. Credits: Marc J. Bonamo
5b45261c16c96dde0d35_sompixnewarkamazon.jpg

SOMERVILLE, NJ – Gov. Chris Christie, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and assorted state and Essex County officials will try to convince online behemoth Amazon.com to invest billions in Newark as the ideal location for its planned expansion and an east coast headquarters complex worth billions to the state and local economy.

Somerville Mayor Brian Gallagher says not so fast, suggesting Somerville has just as much to offer the Seattle-based conglomerate as does Newark.

Amazon, the world's largest online retailer, announced its solicitation of North American regions earlier this year in a highly-competitive selection process for its second corporate headquarters, or HQ2 which would include upwards of 8 million square feet. 

Sign Up for E-News

The opportunity could bring 50,000 jobs and billions of dollars of private investment to the state.

Christie, accompanied by Booker, the former mayor of Newark and his successor, Mayor Ras Baraka, presided at a white-collar, bi-partisan pep rally Monday in Newark at Rutgers Business School, where Christie announced that the state would endorse Newark as New Jersey’s preferred location for Amazon’s self-described HQ2.

Failing to garner the state’s official endorsement, Somerville has decided to go it alone.

Just hours after the last guest had left Rutgers’ Newark campus Somerville’s Borough Council voted unanimously at its Monday night meeting to submit a formal response to Amazon’s RFP (Request for Proposal), joining more than 50 other cities and regions in the mega-billion sweepstakes.

While Christie and other invited guests spoke in superlatives about all that Newark has to offer, Colin Driver, Somerville’s Director of Economic Development, was already busy preparing the borough’s proposal, which centers on a 22-acre tract of property at the borough’s former landfill, a portion of which fronts on Route 206. The tract has been undergoing environmental remediation for several months.

Gallagher and Driver like the odds.

Driver believes Somerville has a 50/50 chance of being selected as a finalist for the Amazon jackpot, a decision expected sometime next year.

Gallagher likens Somerville’s bid to the Biblical story of David vs. Goliath which tells of the nine-foot giant Goliath, a soldier from Gath, who boasted he could beat any individual soldier in the Israelite army. Nobody in the army dared to take him on -- except David, a shepherd boy who believed strongly in God and who was able to vanquish Goliath.  

Driver said the property could easily accommodate a 500,000 square foot building, which Amazon has cited as the first step of its planned expansion. The RFP estimates Amazon will need 8 million square feet of space to complete its expansion.

“Their RFP says they’d like their first building to be close to a transportation hub and/or buses,” Driver said. “They would like to be in proximity to a downtown that’s got arts, entertainment, restaurants, an overall good community feel,” he added.

“They also want to be close to highways, airports and have available open space for recreation. It sounds like they’re describing Somerville,” Driver said.

The borough-owned property is also adjacent to the NJ Transit Raritan Valley line; close proximity to rail is one of Amazon’s criteria, along with access to interstate highways and airports. The proposed site is adjacent to the borough’s “Green Seam,” a passive recreation park that will weave through the 80-plus acres of the former landfill. Retail and/or residential development is also planned for the site.

Further expansion of a network of satellite campuses would afford adjacent towns in Somerset County an opportunity to to cash in on the Amazon jackpot, according to Driver.

Earlier this month, Somerville, in conjunction with the Somerset County Business Partnership and an assist from the Somerset County Freeholders, had submitted a formal RFP to the state’s Partnership for Action and the Business Action Center for consideration, as did other municipalities, including New Brunswick.

New Jersey had instructed those towns interested in pitching Amazon to send their proposals for its review and eventual endorsement; Somerville was notified that its proposal “did not meet the criteria set by the state and would therefore not be submitted with the state’s response,” according to the resolution approved by the Borough Council, which continued, “Be it resolved that the Borough Council authorizes the Administrator and Director of Economic Development to finalize the RFP response package and forward it to Amazon.com by the response deadline.”

“I can guarantee you if we do nothing, we will get nothing,” Gallagher said. “It is a David versus Goliath situation, but we’ve been known to take on the state before and prevail.

“I will hold Somerville and Somerset County up against any portion of this state, any day, any time,” Gallagher continued. “What this area has to offer for people to live in and work in is unmatched; you won’t find a caliber of lifestyle like this anywhere.

“We hit every mark they’re looking for,” Gallagher said.

Amazon has a long list of wants, not the least of which is a high quality of life for its employees – a robust downtown with world-class restaurants and shopping.

Somerville has that – and more, according to the mayor, quick to point out that Wolfgang’s, a highly-acclaimed steakhouse with international locations, chose to open in Somerville a few years ago.

“Take a step back; who would have thought that Somerville would attract a world class restaurant like Wolfgang’s,” he said.

"Newark was the clear winner of this competition, and Newark has earned the state's support," Christie said, citing the city's status as a unique education, technology, transportation, and cultural hub. 

Christie noted that the state was willing to give $5 billion dollars in tax incentives over ten years upon the creation of the 50,000 new jobs. 

"Let any other state go and try and beat that package," Christie said, also noting that the City of Newark was willing to offer a local, 20-year property tax abatement that could be worth another $1 billion dollars, and would waive its municipal wage tax to encourage Amazon to come to the city.

"Newark, New Jersey has often been maligned over the previous decades, but let's tell the truth about this incredible city. For centuries, Newark led this nation in innovation, in invention, and in industry as one of America's premier cities," said Booker, who served as the city's mayor from 2006 to 2013.

"Like all major Northeastern industrial cities, we saw tough times. But the truth of Newark in the last decade plus has been of a city charging back, and reclaiming its space, step by step, as one of America's greatest cities," Booker said. 

"Newark is not a charity case. It is the choice for companies who want to relocate and remain competitive and strong, not just in New Jersey and not just in our nation, but in a global context," Booker added.

“We’ve got a 50-50 shot like everybody else,” Driver said.  “If Amazon came back to us and said ‘it looks interesting, but we need financial assistance,’ we’d need the state to jump in; that would be better than not having anything at all,” he added. “It would be pretty stupid if we got to the point of being selected as a finalist and the state didn’t help the town.”

Amazon has set a deadline of Thursday, Oct. 19 to receive all proposals, according to Driver.

Newark isn’t the only big city in pursuit of Amazon.

“Boston is making a big push, Baltimore, Atlanta there are a number of serious players,” Driver said, “but I like the challenge of throwing our hat in the ring.

“We’ve got the space, everything they are looking for from a community/slash human point of view,” he added. A great downtown, the property  adjacent to the Green Seam which would give them a linear park alongside their headquarters,  all the new residential stuff going up near the train station.

“It’s a walkable, bikeable town,” he continued. “We’re 2-3 miles from every major highway in the area, there’s the bedroom communities to our west, north and south, we’ve got great universities, Rutgers, Princeton and Raritan Valley Community College and so it goes on.

“As a location that is central to most things, Somerville and Somerset County both are really ideal,” Driver said.

“Quality of life will play a big part in their decision; once they start doing their due diligence, the crime statistics in northern New Jersey, they might push back from that,” Driver said.

Much is at stake. Driver said a state planning official likened the competition for Amazon to a “feeding frenzy.” Jersey City hired a team of lawyers and planners to work on its proposal; Newark has a team of 10 people, according to Driver.   

No matter to Somerville.

“We’re going to give it our best shot, that’s for sure, Driver said.

“We’re up against the wizardry of technology and expensive lawyers putting together applications as far as the major cities go, but our application will rely on the magic of Somerville and Somerset County and the lifestyle we have,” Gallagher said.

“The state obviously has its favorite cities that they drive significant development to all the time; it’s not right,” Gallagher added. “It shouldn’t be that way. We took a look at the criteria that Amazon has put forth in their RFP and you know what, Somerville and Somerset County hits every mark.”

Gallagher said Somerville’s entry in the sweepstakes may pay dividends in other ways.

“We have the ability to attract Amazon; if not Amazon, there are those who are watching what Amazon does. It puts us on a map that we’re not on right now.”

 

Editor’s Note: Tapinto Newark reporter Marc J. Bonamo contributed to this story.

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

East Hanover/Florham Park

Florham Park Prepares for the Fourth

Its time for one of Florham Park's shining moments. The Fourth of July parade is not only the kick of to summer, it continues the legacy of being among the oldest Independence day celebrations in New Jersey. this year the festivities are set and the schedule of events is as follows;

9:00am  Flag raising ceremony at the Florham Park Fire House

9:30am  Parade begins on ...

Important Message for Florham Park Residents Regarding the Fourth of July

Important July 4th Celebration Reminder - Please be advised in the interest of safety and security, the entire parade route will be CLOSED TO ALL TRAFFIC beginning at 8:30am on July 4, 2018. This will impact residents who live along the parade route and all of the side streets that connect to the parade route. (Please see the map attached to this post)

Please ensure that you plan accordingly ...

Freeholders Approve 21 Historic Preservation Grants Including Florham Park and Hanover Township Properties

July 16, 2018

The Morris County Board of Freeholders unanimously approved $2.2 million in county historic preservation grants to be financed by the county’s 2018 Preservation Trust Fund to help preserve, restore, or protect historic sites in 16 towns across Morris County.

The vote was taken at the Freeholder Board’s meeting held in Mount Olive, which will get $198 000 in construction ...

Belmar Parasail: Soar Into Summer with a High-Flying Adventure Along the Beachfront

July 12, 2018

BELMAR, NJ — As Belmar finally basks in picture-perfect weather, it may be time to check off a summer activity on your bucket list. And for many, parasailing is one of those “must-do” experiences.

At Belmar Parasail, the season is in full swing, offering boat trips from the Belmar Manutti Marina to the beachfront where passengers are lifted 500 feet above the Atlantic Ocean ...

New Jersey Average Gas Prrice Down Slightly; Record Holiday Travel Week Underway

Florham Park, N.J.- The average price at the pump in New Jersey is $2.88 today, one cent cheaper than last week ($2.89), according to AAA Northeast’s weekly survey of fuel prices. Today’s average price is 13 cents cheaper than one month ago ($3.01), but 60 cents higher than it was on July 2, 2017 ($2.28).

 

AAA’s July 2nd survey of ...

Rutgers Football Zack Heeman Among the Allstate and AFCA 2018 Good Works Team Nominees

July 17, 2018

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J.-Across America,  college football players receive praise for their superior performance on the field. Today, however, only a select group of those student-athletes have the honor of being commended for their distinguished accomplishments off the field when Allstate Insurance Company and the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) announce 169 nominees for the 2018 ...

AtlantiCast

AtlantiCast: Episode 18

On this week’s AtlantiCast, you’ll find out how accessing care at Atlantic Health System is now easier, more affordable and closer to home than ever, learn which item from the produce aisle could be the newest weapon against cancer, see what Atlantic Health System, the New York Times and Instagram all have in common and much more.

 

 

Upcoming Events

Carousel_image_79d791602b5680d23c85_original

Tue, July 24, 7:00 PM

Livingston Public Library, Livingston

Meet the Author: Lucy Tan

Arts & Entertainment

Wed, July 25, 7:30 PM

Chatham United Methodist Church, Chatham

Masterwork’s Summer Sings Conclude with Verdi ...

Arts & Entertainment

Mon, July 30, 9:00 AM

Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center, Little Falls

Yogi Berra Museum Summer Baseball Camp

Education Health & Wellness Sports

17 Fascinating Facts About Rutgers Athletics

July 10, 2018

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - For all the critics of the athletics program at New Jersey’s largest public university, there are more than a dozen reasons to cheer for successes of the sports programs and teams on the playing fields, in classrooms and beyond.

Here are 17 on the field and off the field things this took place this past academic year at Rutgers University:

1. Rutgers had four ...

Obituaries

Beverly Jean (Charlton) Weimar, of Ship Bottom, and Florham Park, New Jersey passed away on March ...
Read more

Camp Najeda Joins Park Avenue Foundation

July 18, 2018

(Florham Park, NJ, July 5, 2018) – The Park Avenue Foundation is proud to announce Camp Nejeda in Stillwater, New Jersey (www.campnejeda.org) as its newest beneficiary. The Park Avenue Foundation is a unique model, utilizing revenues from the Park Avenue Club (www.parkavenueclub.com), the upscale private dining club in Florham Park, New Jersey to fund important programing provided ...