Why we pitched Old Goucher to Amazon

Like all who submitted a response to Amazon’s Request For Proposals for its second headquarters (HQ2), the Old Goucher Community Association recognizes this unique opportunity to highlight the advantages of living, working and doing business in our community.

As members of the association, we worked with our president, Kelly Cross, to create an independent bid for the location of Amazon’s HQ2 in Center City Baltimore. One of us is an architect with two decades experience supporting dozens of business, non-profit and private clients. The other is a finance professional with an MBA from the University of Washington in Seattle who has spent an equal amount of time advising global corporate decision-makers. To both of us, it was clear from the first reading of Amazon’s RFP that Old Goucher is the best location for the company’s HQ2 — not just in Baltimore, but in the whole country.

The main feature of the neighborhood is its existing transportation infrastructure. Few American cities can demonstrate such variety of transit options within a similarly concentrated area. Penn Station carries over 1 million passengers annually into and out of Baltimore, with plans to expand Acela capacity by 20 percent. The Jones Falls Expressway has four exits between 29th and Eager streets. Within two miles of the intersection at Charles Street and North Avenue, there are eight metro stops and six light rail stations. Inside the same radius, one can catch any bus in the new BaltimoreLink system. Additionally, the full length of the Maryland Avenue cycletrack and every major arterial roadway coming into the city traverses the area of the circle.

Old Goucher’s transit density is impressive, but so too is its centrality to Baltimore’s higher educational complex. More of Maryland’s universities and colleges are in Baltimore than anywhere else in the state. Tens of thousands of students, faculty and staff make their home within the two-mile radius that comprises half the city’s campuses. In turn, this area supports a wide range of small restaurants, cafes, bars and shops. According to “Vital Signs 15,” a statistical report of the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance, the neighborhoods around and including Old Goucher have Center City Baltimore’s largest concentration of local businesses.

Most important to our decision to pitch Old Goucher for Amazon’s HQ2, however, was the fact that these urban assets are available to a project of this scale at a value that can’t be beat. We counted the number of vacant lots, underutilized buildings and public properties scheduled for redevelopment within the area. Our research identified a minimum of 200 acres, with up to 12 million developable square feet. We investigated the average price for commercial property within one mile from Penn Station and calculated it to be $120 per square foot, on average. Meanwhile, a similar analysis identified costs of $430 per square foot for Philadelphia and $650 per square foot for Washington. This exceptional value, coupled with the amenities and transportation accessibility of Center City Baltimore, has no peer on the East Coast.

We contacted Amazon and asked if our proposal would be given consideration. When the company encouraged us to participate, we compiled our data and formalized our response. We were fully aware at the time — as we are now — that city officials have decided to promote only the Port Covington location. Of course, we have no authority to offer tax incentives or government properties. But the RFP states that “all options are under consideration,” and Old Goucher, as the heart of Center City Baltimore, is a great option for Amazon. Should the company give serious thought to the neighborhood, government officials can decide how to proceed.

In the end, Amazon itself will choose the site that’s best for the company. If it concludes Port Covington is the right place for HQ2, then our bid won’t change that fact. However, if Port Covington isn’t right for Amazon, then our bid is just one among hundreds of others the company is considering. Whatever the final outcome, we weren’t going to miss this chance to show Amazon what’s available in Old Goucher.

Jay Orr (jay@arqarchitects.com) is a principal with ARQ Architects and vice-president of the Old Goucher Community Association. Brian Gaither (brian.gaither@jhu.edu) is a member of the Old Goucher Community Association and pursuing his second masters in real estate at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School.

Mike Pruett