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Amazon dials up Chicago, other HQ2 contenders, to explain selection process

Amazon has begun briefing officials in Chicago and 19 other cities in the running for the company’s HQ2 second headquarters on the next phase of the process, after announcing the 20 contenders last week.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and other local leaders earlier this week had a conference call with Amazon real estate executives to map out how the e-commerce giant will evaluate Chicago, according to someone familiar with the process.

Similar phone calls have been taking place in other areas still under consideration for HQ2, including Boston and Newark, N.J., according to media reports.

Chicago leaders last week touted the city’s strengths after it was announced as a contender. But since then, Emanuel and Amazon mostly have remained tight-lipped about what happens next, including whether the Seattle-based firm plans to narrow the list of contenders or if its next announcement will be of a winner.

It’s unclear how many, or which of, the 10 proposed Chicago-area sites Amazon plans to visit — or exactly when.

Amazon will announce a location sometime in 2018.

HQ2 will bring as many as 50,000 high-paying jobs to the chosen North American city, so communities under consideration remain hungry for hints of Amazon’s preferences.

John Schoettler, who oversees Amazon’s real estate, provided a few clues while speaking at an event Friday in Seattle. The comments could be interpreted to mean Amazon prefers a more condensed, urban setting similar to what it has in its ever-expanding Seattle offices.

Amazon envisions “a combination of buildings and facilities probably within walking proximity to one another,” Schoettler said at the event, according to a Jan. 19 story in the Puget Sound Business Journal. Schoettler also expressed an aversion to bids that propose spreading 8 million square feet of offices onto several sites, unless those sites can be expanded or somehow connected.

He also indicated Amazon would heavily weigh factors such as availability and cost of housing and proximity to public transportation. “We look forward to cities that are also progressive and are thinking forward and long-term in terms of affordable housing and mass transportation and being able to move people around,” Schoettler said, according to the business journal.

The Chicago area proposed 10 potential sites, including some options that would combine and connect buildings and land controlled by multiple owners. One such option would combine space in the vacant old main post office, a redeveloped Union Station and the city’s tallest building, 110-story Willis Tower.

Big land sites include 62 acres along the Chicago River in the South Loop, which Related Midwest plans to develop; more than 70 acres of riverfront land along Lincoln Park and Bucktown, which developer Sterling Bay is calling Lincoln Yards; 37 acres along the river between downtown and the North Side, owned by Tribune Media; and the former Michael Reese Hospital site and other land south of McCormick Place, which a team led by Farpoint Development and Draper and Kramer is redeveloping.

The two suburban options are the Oak Brook campus McDonald’s is set to vacate as it moves its headquarters to Chicago, and land on the longtime Motorola Solutions campus in Schaumburg.

rori@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @Ryan_Ori

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