March 18 (UPI) — Virginia’s Arlington County Board unanimously approved a $23 million incentives package for Amazon to build its second headquarters amid protests Saturday.
The board voted 5-0 in favor of the deal that would provide Amazon with $23 million directly from the county and $458 million in transportation, housing and infrastructure spending over a 10-15 year period to bring its second headquarters to Crystal City, Va., in suburban Washington, D.C.
“Arlington has done a lot of changing in the 40-plus years I have been here, and we are ready for this change,” Board Vice Chair Libby Garvey said. “We’ve planned for this growth, we’ve planned for these jobs, but we did not expect to get so much of this in one agreement.”
The agreement, revealed earlier this month, states that Amazon will receive up to 15 percent of a tax on hotel rooms known as the “transient occupancy tax” for 15 years.
In exchange, Amazon will be required to continuously increase its square-footage of office space in the county over the next 15 years, starting with 64,000 square feet by the end of June 2020 and ending with more than 6 million square feet by the end of June 2035.
The company will also be subjected to the state’s Freedom of Information Act, but the retail giant will be given two business days’ written notice “to allow Amazon to take such steps as it deems appropriate with regard to the requested disclosure of records.”
Saturday’s vote came at the end of a six-hour meeting in which more than 100 people signed up to speak and express their support and concern over the deal.
Business leaders expressed support for the package, saying economic benefits — including an estimated $342 million revenue boost in the county over 16 years — will justify the amount spent to draw Amazon to the county.
Opponents expressed concern that the presence of the headquarters will lead to an increase in housing prices that will force some residents out of the area. Others cited what they said was Amazon’s anti-union history and its partnership with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“This vote today is about racial justice,” Danny Cendejas, a member of the La ColectiVA advocacy group, said. “We have been talking to folks in communities of color, immigrant communities. We have been hearing consistently the concerns about gentrification.”
Protesters shouted “shame” as members of the board delivered their “yes” votes, prompting the board, its staff and the Amazon representatives to leave the room for about 15 minutes. The Amazon representatives did not return.
The state of Virginia already agreed to provide Amazon with $750 million in subsidies over the next 15 years, but Saturday’s tense vote followed Amazon canceling its plans to build another headquarters campus in New York City after political backlash.
Despite concerns, Board Chair Christian Dorsey said agreement was the “most cost-effective” the board had ever negotiated.
Dorsey also said the county must increase its efforts to manage rent, traffic congestion and school overcrowding, but added he was “confident” in its ability to handle those issues.
“You don’t deal with affordability by keeping people out. You deal with affordability by growing the supply,” he said. “The work now truly begins.”