Emanuel, Chicago developers shrug off Amazon snub

Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago skyline (Credit: Getty Images, iStock)

The public and private leaders who aggressively pitched Chicago to be the site of Amazon’s second North American headquarters shrugged off the retail giant’s decision to split its expansion between Queens, New York and Crystal City, Virginia on Tuesday, predicting the city would land other corporate relocations instead.

Property owners last year sent applications to Amazon for 10 different sites in Chicago and its suburbs, joining more than 200 other cities that tried to land the new headquarters and its promised 50,000 jobs. Amazon leaders visited five of the Chicago sites, and they toured one of them — Related Midwest’s The 78 — as recently as August.

Related Midwest CEO Curt Bailey said in a statement Tuesday that The 78 was a “top contender” for HQ2 because of its potential to attract tech talent with concentrated retail and entertainment spaces, which also make it appealing to other possible tenants.

“We have had tremendous interest … from major corporations, cultural institutions and retailers who share our vision for Chicago’s next great neighborhood,” Bailey said.

At an unrelated event Tuesday morning, Mayor Rahm Emanuel refused to say what Amazon executives told him about why they passed on Chicago. But he told reporters he was “not sorry” for his approach to with dealing with the company, saying his administration put its “best foot forward.”

“If you compete, you have the opportunity to win, and you also have the opportunity to not be successful,” Emanuel said. “That said, Chicago has won more than it has lost, and we have a record to show for it.”

The mayor added his staff has spoken with the leaders of four major companies in the past week who are considering opening new offices in the city.

“Over the next two to three months, you’ll see the success of that strategy,” he said.

Last month, Equity Group Investments CEO Sam Zell told an audience Chicago was “the last place” Amazon should consider for its new headquarters, because of the legacy of political and fiscal dysfunction in the city and state.

Amazon executives this year toured the 100-acre former site of the Michael Reese Hospital in Bronzeville, where Farpoint Development is leading a team of companies to design a new technology campus it’s calling the Burnham Lakefront.

Elle Ramel, director of development for Farpoint, wrote in an email Tuesday she was “proud how our site and others in Chicago presented a united and clear option for HQ2.”

“When Chicagoans come together, we can achieve great things,” Ramel wrote. “That tradition will continue in spite of today’s announcement, and we are excited to be part of Chicago’s bright future through the historic transformation and revitalization of the Michael Reese Hospital site in Bronzeville.”

Sterling Bay, which pitched its 53-acre Lincoln Yards site as a contender for HQ2, is also ready to put Amazon in the rearview mirror.

Earlier this year, Sterling Bay released renderings of the riverfront campus imagined as HQ2, with Amazon’s logo adorning conceptual buildings. As of Tuesday, the company’s “Amazon Lincoln Yards” advertising website was still live.

But the developer doesn’t expect to have any trouble filling the 6 million square feet of commercial space it has planned for the project now that the Seattle-based e-commerce behemoth is out, according to spokeswoman Julie Goudie.

“Sterling Bay is moving full steam ahead with our initial plans for Lincoln Yards,” Goudie said in a statement Wednesday. The developer is set to release more details of its proposal for the site during a public meeting later this month.

The 78, the Burnham Lakefront and Lincoln Yards all promise to add millions of square feet of residential, office and retail space in the years to come, but all three projects remain in the infancy stages, having yet to clear any specific plans by the city.

Last month, the Chicago Plan Commission approved the first phase of the 37-acre “River District,”which co-developers Tribune Media and Riverside Investment & Development also had submitted as contender for HQ2.

Representatives of Riverside declined to comment, and Tribune Media did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

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