A shovel-ready, 124-acre greenfield on Clear Lake in League City could have been the site of Amazon’s second headquarters.
But the fast-growing city didn’t make Amazon’s cut because it lacked public transportation the company wanted for the 50,000 employees who would work there, officials said.
The Seattle-based online retail company’s proposed second headquarters has some specific requirements, and League City met many of those, Amazon said. It was near Houston, close to highways and airports and had available land.
League City even made it to Amazon’s second round, Economic Development Director Scott Livingston said.
But Amazon eliminated League City from the competition because it lacks public transportation, officials said.
“Based upon discussions with our regional partners at the Greater Houston Partnership, staff understands that League City was eliminated from the competition in Round 2 primarily because of our lack of public transportation, namely light/commuter rail,” Livingston said.
Still, some League City leaders have suggested that having universal access to internet and satellite data could have helped the odds of nabbing the coveted second headquarters. The Greater Houston Partnership, the organization that helped area cities prepare applications to Amazon, agreed.
“While there has been growing momentum in the innovation space over the last couple of years, this is a clear indication that we need to accelerate our work on our region’s digital economy, particularly in the area of developing talent,” partnership President Bob Harvey said.
On Thursday, Amazon announced 20 metropolitan areas it chose to move to the next phase of the selection process, including Austin and Dallas.
Amazon reviewed 238 proposals from across the United States, Canada and Mexico to host the company’s second headquarters in North America, the company stated.
Amazon asked each region to coordinate responses of only the best sites in each metropolitan region, Livingston said.
The Greater Houston Partnership coordinated the response among the competing communities in the Greater Houston area, Livingston said.
League City sent its initial application Sept 19. Amazon invited the city to the next round, asking for more information. The city sent that package Oct. 19.
“This project will be transformative to the region and our economy,” Bob Pertierra, chief economic development officer with the Greater Houston Partnership wrote in a Sept. 14 email to area cities pitching sites.
After Amazon announced its top 20 list, the partnership sent a statement to the area communities that made pitches.
“While Houston is the number one market in the country for STEM workers, we need to bolster our pipeline of digital tech talent that is relevant to tomorrow’s digital economy,” Harvey said. “We also need to move forward with developing the Innovation Corridor and digital startup community, as well as accelerate the idea of a Houston Data Science Institute.”
The pitch to Amazon spurred an ongoing conversation among business leaders about what it takes to attract tech businesses, League City Regional Chamber of Commerce President Steve Paterson said.
Besides public transportation, the city also needs to look at becoming a smart city with universal access to digital capabilities from the internet to GPS systems, Paterson said.
A chamber task force that has met for a year to make recommendations to the city’s master plan backs the idea of League City creating a digital spine.
A pipeline carrying digital cable, fiber optics and other high-speed technology conduits would make League City more attractive to high-tech companies, officials said.
Besides attracting high-tech businesses, a smart city would appeal to new residents, Paterson said. Business leaders want to see the coming Grand Parkway area in undeveloped southwest League City wired for success as new homes and new businesses emerge.
OFF FM 270
The 124-acre site League City proposed to Amazon has multiple owners, according to the city’s application. FM 270 borders the west side of the site, just south of the Dr. Ned and Fay Dudney Nature Center. The site would have stretched from FM 270 to Davis Road, according to the city’s application.
The partnership reviewed each of the proposed sites and selected the best sites to move forward. The best sites met all of Amazon’s site criteria, including either an existing building of at least 500,000 square feet or a greenfield site of about 100 acres with utilities in place, according to the partnership.
The ideal site would be 30 miles from Houston with proximity to major highways and within a 45-minute drive to a major international airport, the partnership said.
It also needed access to mass transit at the site, something League City did not have.
“Please note: If your site does not have mass transit, please begin to consider ways to address it,” the instructions stated.
Mass transit has been unpopular among many in League City, but city leaders continue to examine options.
“I believe as the county evolves, there needs to be an attempt to develop a private mass transit solution,” Paterson said.
“As the technology evolves, this will be a more affordable and profitable solution that will attract private investment. This will be possible with the onset of autonomous energy efficient transportation.”
League City Mayor Pat Hallisey has always been amazed that the Interstate 45 and state Highway 3 corridor between Galveston and Houston never got serious consideration for a commuter rail line, he said.
“That, coupled with strategically placed park and ride locations with direct access to rail and bus lines, would go a long way to address mass transit concerns that Amazon or other corporations would have,” Hallisey said.
“Why Texans are so damn afraid of rail is beyond me,” he said.