fb-pixel Skip to main content

Five things you should know about Boston’s Amazon bid

Rowers on the Charles River at sunrise on Friday.David L Ryan/Globe Staff

You might not have time to read all 218 pages of the bid that Boston submitted to land Amazon’s second headquarters. So here’s a rundown of some of the key points.

1. The focus is on Boston’s brainpower.

City officials know that if they’re going to convince Amazon to open its HQ2 here, they won’t be able to use inexpensive real estate or super-generous public incentives to pull it off. Instead, the Boston bid emphasizes how wicked smart we are, with more than half of the region’s workforce holding a bachelor’s degree. The bid outlines a long list of collaboration possibilities with a wide range of colleges — from the obvious flagships such as MIT and Harvard to smaller schools such as Emerson, Berklee, and the city’s two community colleges.


2. Mayor Martin J. Walsh doubled down on Suffolk Downs.

It was clear from the start, when Amazon first invited bids from cities last month, that the horse track that straddles the East Boston-Revere line was a favorite. Developers pitched other Boston locations, but the Walsh administration kept returning to the 161-acre track site. There’s plenty of room for Amazon’s long-term goal of 8 million square feet of offices, as well as housing, stores, and hotels.

Tom O’Brien, whose firm bought the property in the spring, has already gotten a warm reception from neighbors for a mixed-used concept there. The property also has two Blue Line stops, and it’s practically next door to Logan Airport.

3. Good luck figuring out the tax incentives that will be offered.

City officials like to say that Suffolk Downs checks all the boxes on Amazon’s wish list. But there’s one crucial place where the bid falls short. Amazon wants bidders to not only outline the type of public incentives available, but to also provide an amount. City officials say they plan to offer more details in this regard if Boston gets to Round 2. But it’s unlikely Boston will top Worcester’s promise of “up to $500 million” in tax breaks — Boston pledged to give General Electric $25 million over 20 years — or 100 acres of potentially free land, like what’s being offered at the former South Weymouth Naval Air Station.


4. Transportation remains an open question.

The bid focuses heavily on the MBTA but implies that more needs to be done. There’s a mention of the Blue Line extension to the Red Line, a project that was essentially mothballed by state transportation officials. There’s $40 million suggested for unspecified improvements to the crowded Route 1A, the main road that passes by the site. And the bid floats the still-informal concept of a commuter rail station near the Wonderland T stop. Good thing House Speaker Robert DeLeo is a fan of the Suffolk Downs proposal, because financial assistance from the state will be needed.

5. The bid glosses over some of the downsides.

Like with any marketing pitch, city officials focus on the positive. The bid implies access to Cambridge could be provided by the aforementioned Red-Blue connector, but stretches the truth when it says this project “is a clear goal of the State.” Then there’s the area’s high housing costs: Boston officials say not to worry because our prices are comparable to those in Seattle, Amazon’s hometown. And what about the traffic? The bid says the Seaport is 12 minutes away and Harvard University is 20. Just don’t ask Amazon executives to drive into the Ted Williams tunnel at rush hour.


Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.