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Southern California cities to submit bids for Amazon's new headquarters site

Since Amazon rolled out the reality-show-like competition for its second headquarters last month, communities have come up with a multitude of creative ways to generate buzz for their bids.

In Tucson, an economic development group tried to gift a 21-foot tall saguaro cactus to Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos. The city of Birmingham, Ala., placed giant Amazon boxes around town. And in Kansas City, Mo., the mayor announced he purchased 1,000 items on Amazon and left a review for each that touted the city.

“The idea was easy — make Kansas City the most-well reviewed city on Amazon,” Mayor Sly James boasted in a news release.

But the submissions that will be delivered by Thursday’s deadline won’t rely on such gimmicks. Instead, they’re likely to tout combinations of tax incentives and the assets Amazon identified in its request for proposals: top-notch university systems and enough land to accommodate 8 million square feet and 50,000 employees.

The contest has been seen by some as an opportunity to spread tech wealth beyond the traditional hubs of Silicon Valley and Seattle and has attracted interest from across the country, including communities in the Rust Belt eager to build up their own clusters.

If the Seattle company wants another West Coast headquarters, the Southern California region has several willing candidates that are expected to submit bids, including Irvine, Santa Ana and San Diego.

Other known contenders will be communities in Los Angeles County, where a regional effort includes locations in Los Angeles and Pomona, where Cal Poly Pomona and the Fairplex have offered up land.

In a statement, a spokesman for L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti did not reveal any potential sites in the city, but said the mayor is working with the county and cited local universities, a growing rail network and Los Angeles International Airport as reasons why Amazon should pick the area.

“This project is an incredible opportunity to bring new jobs and investment to Los Angeles,” spokesman Alex Comisar said.

According to the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp., which is helping coordinate the regional effort, the L.A. County bid contains nine separate sites that would each fulfill Amazon’s requirements. Some of the locations are outside Los Angeles and Pomona, but a spokesman declined to name them or the individual sites.

“This is a highly competitive process and we do not want to give our competitors around the country any information that could be used to strengthen their hands,” Lawren Markle said.

The city of Irvine and the Irvine Co. are expected to submit a combined bid. They, too, have been largely mum since the developer issued a news release a day after Amazon announced its competition.

A possible location for Amazon could be land the Irvine Co. owns around the Irvine Spectrum. A company spokesman didn’t return emails seeking comment.

“A lot of communities have been out there with a good amount of bravado, [but] … there is really not much to be gained by promoting in advance of submission,” said Larry Kosmont, a Los Angeles-area urban development consultant. His company is working on Amazon proposals for communities he declined to name.

Gov. Jerry Brown has been supportive of the effort to lure Amazon, writing a cover letter for communities to include in their proposals.

Addressed directly to Bezos, the letter cites the state’s strong university system and talented workforce as reasons the company should give “careful consideration to the many California cities interested in becoming the next home for Amazon’s newest headquarters.”

Brown’s office also supplied communities with a list of possible state tax credits available to Amazon — something the tech company asked for in its request for proposals.

Among the subsidies available under current law are up to $200 million as part of the California Competes Tax Credit program and up to $100 million in workforce training funds. Brown has also pledged to establish a multi-agency “strike team” that can help expedite permits and approvals.

Some cities are considering packages of their own. In Chula Vista, the City Council was expected to debate a $400-million incentive deal Tuesday evening.

However, California isn’t expected to offer as much as some states. New Jersey, for instance, has floated a $7-billion tax incentive package. Historically, the Golden State has tended to rely on its inherent attractiveness rather than large public subsidies.

Brown spokeswoman Ali Bay declined to release a list of California cities submitting bids, but said “there’s been interest statewide.”

Mike Harrah, a flashy Santa Ana real estate developer, has been more willing to talk.

He’s working with the cities of Santa Ana and Garden Grove on a proposal that would include the former Orange County Register headquarters near the 5 Freeway.

Harrah earlier this year revealed a $1-billion plan for the 20-acre site in Santa Ana that would include building Orange County's tallest towers, more than 1,000 residences, a 171-room hotel, offices and retail shops.

Within five miles are the proposal’s other two sites: Harrah’s long-planned One Broadway Plaza office tower and the Willowick Golf Course. The 102-acre course is in Santa Ana but owned by Garden Grove, and both cities recently voted to explore redeveloping the land.

The three sites are adjacent to stops along the proposed OC Streetcar, which would also stop in Santa Ana’s downtown, where a flood of new restaurants and shops have opened in recent years.

“It’s the ultimate urban empire,” Harrah said of the proposal he calls “Silicon City.”

Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido said he’s also worked with nearby cities to highlight housing options in Anaheim’s Platinum Triangle near Angel Stadium and educational opportunities at Chapman University in downtown Orange.

“They are talking about 50,000 jobs,” Pulido said. “I think those jobs will make us strong for decades to come.”

Other proposals include a joint Huntington Beach-Long Beach bid, with one site on a portion of Boeing’s Huntington Beach campus, where the aerospace giant is downsizing. Another location is near the Long Beach waterfront and a third is on property adjacent to the Long Beach Airport, where Boeing once manufactured the C-17.

There is also a San Diego regional bid that includes potential sites in downtown and Chula Vista.

An Amazon spokesperson declined to comment on next steps following Thursday’s deadline, other than to say the company will evaluate the proposals and make a decision sometime next year.

San Diego Union-Tribune staff writer Mike Freeman contributed to this report.

andrew.khouri@latimes.com

Twitter: @khouriandrew

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UPDATES:

12:20 a.m.: This article was updated with information on potential subsidies available to Amazon and information on a joint bid from Huntington Beach and Long Beach.

This article was originally published at 6 a.m.

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