Internet retailing giant Amazon.com may not know a lot about the city of Maumee, but it soon will.
A trio made up of Maumee administrator John Jezak, developer/landowner Zac Isaac, and developer Brian McMahon plan to offer 521 acres of land that encircle the Shops of Fallen Timbers in Maumee as a potential site for the Seattle company’s proposed second headquarters project.
Amazon announced in August that it wants a co-headquarters somewhere and it will spend $5 billion to build it plus fill it with 50,000 high-tech and administrative jobs by 2027. Workers will have an average salary of $100,000 and the site’s annual payroll will be about $5 billion.
Officials at northwest Ohio’s lead economic development agency, the Regional Growth Partnership, already have said they don’t believe places in the region meet Amazon’s stated requirements for a site. Instead, they have quietly reached out to Detroit in an effort to team up with that city’s bid to Amazon.
However, Mr. Jezak said upon hearing the growth partnership’s position, he began wondering about the Fallen Timbers site — which is now a mall but over the last 30 years has been proposed as mixed-use housing community, a site for a new Jeep plant and GM’s Saturn plant, as a golf course, and finally, a mall.
“This site over here has really been a number of things over time, this being a place of great potential,” Mr. Jezak said.
It already has necessary road infrastructure and access to major traffic arteries, internet connectivity, utilities, zoning, assembled land with willing sellers, close proximity to Toledo Express Airport and other Fortune 500 headquarters, and nearby colleges and universities.
“We think a lot of these things fall together quite nicely to put together a cogent proposal for Amazon to look at as being a place that they could call home,” Mr. Jezak said.
Amazon wants bids submitted by Oct. 19, which puts the group in a rush.
Lucas County, the growth partnership, and the state of Ohio would be welcome to join in the bid, the three men said. Toledo could join too since it would get a third of any tax revenue from the site through its joint economic development zone agreement with Maumee and Monclova Township.
But Maumee will go it alone if necessary, the three said. “We would be somewhat remiss if we didn’t at least put this in front of (Amazon) and say, ‘Hey, we may not hit all of the criteria dead on, but we've got a lot of other things that we could offer that have a lot of value and that makes a lot of sense when you're evaluating sites,” Mr. Jezak said.
The land originally was meant for a second shopping center, an idea that died in 2007 with the last recession. “We probably have not done a good job of letting people know about it since then,” he said. “In hindsight we probably have a more valuable site then we realized.”
The three said the Amazon proposal was a wake-up call of sorts to reassess what Maumee has in the site located near the junction of U.S. 24 and I-475.
“I think everybody realistically says this is a long shot to think that Amazon‘s headquarters will come here,” Mr. McMahon said. “But the fact that they’re asking for this request for proposals and all sorts of communities are making presentations, … well if we can submit our information we may not even know who will look at it and say, ‘Gee, we may be interested in something like that,’” he said.
Amazon has stated its preference for “Metropolitan areas with more than one million people” while metro Toledo is 608,145. It also wants existing buildings or a campus setting capable of 8 million square feet, or a greenfield site of 100 acres that is certified ready with a utility infrastructure, demonstrated optic fiber connectivity, and multiple cellular phone coverage service.
Some have read Amazon’s proposal and said it disqualifies the Toledo area, but Mr. Jezak has a different view.
“I read it as them just stating their preferences,” he said. “I think other people are reading it as a [decree] that says these are mandatory minimums — if you can’t meet the mandatory minimums we’re not going to even look at you at all.”
But Mr. Jezak said there’s precedent for going to smaller communities like Maumee. Recently, technology giant Foxcomm chose rural Wisconsin for a new $10 billion factory, and the Tesla Gigafactory plant went to Sparks, Nev.
“Ultimately it’s the company’s decision to make the call where they want to go. … There’s what Amazon is going to do and there’s what all the allied businesses and business partners are going to do to. And if we can’t get the big prize then we think we’re in position to pick off a lot of the ancillary development,” he said.
Mr. McMahon said he once spoke with Bass Pro Shops founder John Morris who told him if you want to catch the big fish, you have to put your bait in the water.
“This is what I want to do — get our bait in the water,” Mr. McMahon said. “I think this is a wild effort, but it’s not a wasted opportunity.”
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