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Irvine wants to put Amazon's second headquarters in the Spectrum

Irvine wants to put Amazon's second headquarters in the Spectrum
A rendering for a proposed Amazon campus in Irvine. (Irvine Co.)

Irvine has unveiled its proposal to win Amazon's second headquarters, joining cities from across the country that are vying to lure the tech giant and tens of thousands of new jobs.

With bids due Thursday, the city and its joint partner the Irvine Co. said they want to put Amazon in the Irvine Spectrum area — a sort of downtown for the master-planned city that includes office towers, a large shopping center and thousands of residential units.

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Dan Young, an advisor to Irvine Co. chairman Donald Bren, said the bid has a leg up on the competition. That's because the developer can give Amazon the 8 million square feet of office space it wants on land Irvine Co. owns in the Spectrum, where the tech giant already has offices with around 1,200 employees, including those who work on its cloud computing and Alexa voice-activated services.

While not all of the offices are built, Young said the company has received the necessary entitlements and will finance the construction, leaving Amazon to only pay rent. Even more space is available in buildings it owns in the University Research Park, next to UC Irvine.

In its request for bids, the company said it may spend more than $5 billion to build out a second headquarters, a cost that would include land, construction and purchasing equipment such as computers.

"They can go invest that [money] in the company, in software development and solutions that have made them famous," said Young, a former Irvine Co. executive.

Irvine joins a frenzied competition for Amazon, which last month announced an unusual public search for what it calls a second headquarters that would be home to as many as 50,000 employees.

Some places have used the opportunity to come up with wacky ways to gin up 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 had purchased 1,000 items on Amazon and left a review for each that touted the city.

Others are proposing hefty public subsidies, including New Jersey, which has floated a $7 billion tax incentive package to convince Amazon to pick Newark.

The competition has sparked backlash from some quarters and this week community and labor groups from across the country penned an open letter to Bezos that, among other things, criticized the practice of doling out tax breaks.

"The things about our cities that make you want to move here are the same reasons many of us live here — we have great systems of higher education, museums, and infrastructure," the letter says. "But we got that stuff by collectively paying for it, through taxes, and we're expecting Amazon to pay your fair share if you end up being our neighbor."

California is offering subsidies, but historically the state has tended to rely more on its inherent attractiveness.

Among the incentives Gov. Jerry Brown's office said are 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.

Irvine Mayor Donald Wagner said there are no subsidies from the city in Irvine's proposal, but if something is needed down the line to close the deal, the City Council may take a look, but noted it must "work out for taxpayers."

Irvine city spokesman Craig Reem said that because the Irvine Co. would pay to build the offices and then lease them to Amazon, the desire for subsidies will be less than if the tech giant went elsewhere and had to build.

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"If that doesn't interest Amazon, there is nothing we could do as a city that would," he said.

Among Irvine's competitors in the Southland are Los Angeles County, San Diego County, Santa Ana and a joint bid between Long Beach and Huntington Beach.

Amazon has not said what the next steps would be, other than to say it plans to announce a winner sometime next year.

Follow me @khouriandrew on Twitter

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