With the High Street property on Georgia’s official site list for its Amazon headquarters bid, Dunwoody residents and officials are voicing both excitement and wariness over the potential city-sized complex coming to town.
Sandy Springs — which did not enter the bidding war — has had little say. Mayor Rusty Paul said earlier this month that neither High Street owner GID nor Dunwoody city officials have spoken with him about the Amazon bid.
“It’s an invisible line, but it’s a real one,” Paul said with a smile about the city boundary.
While Sandy Springs is not submitting an Amazon bid, Paul said, the city is “cooperating” with state economic development officials on the overall submission package, which is expected to include many bids from various metro areas. He explained that means letting Amazon know that Sandy Springs can offer support and space for related offices or businesses, rather than the main headquarters.
Michael and Renee Fraser have lived in Dunwoody for 22 years. They don’t remember ever seeing anything but grass on the High Street property in Perimeter Center near the Sandy Springs border.
“As far as I can remember, it’s been an empty lot,” Michael Fraser said.
“Every once in a while, we would see something happening, something being dug up, and then nothing,” Renee Fraser said.
The Frasers were eating a hot dog lunch at a recent Boy Scout Harvest Fall Fest at the Donaldson-Bannister Farm.
Both were skeptical of the Amazon bid.
“That’s not a good location for it,” Renee said. “Even with the MARTA line right there.”
She said she thought the new headquarters would have 2,000 to 3,000 employees. Told the number Amazon proposes is actually closer to 50,000, Renee shook her head.
“That would be like having a football game every day around that area,” she said. “The infrastructure is just not there for the traffic. Just going from Costco to I-285 is stop-and-go, bumper-to-bumper all the time.”
“I just think that property is too small for what they want,” Michael added.
But the High Street property has been continually mentioned as one of the top three locations by economic pundits and analysts trying to gauge metro Atlanta’s chances of scoring the $50 billion project. The other two are the former GM Assembly site in Doraville and what is known as The Gulch in downtown Atlanta.
“The city of Dunwoody would love to have it,” City Councilmember Doug Thompson said while he was attending a farewell event for the Dunwoody Senior Baseball fields on Oct. 21. The High Street area, to Thompson, is “a perfect fit” for Amazon.
“It would be a game-changer for Dunwoody,” he said.
But Thompson tempers his excitement with reality. He said he owns property in Colorado and he reads news that Denver is boasting it will be selected by Amazon.
“The whole world thinks they’re getting Amazon,” he said with a laugh. “But I think we’re the best site.”
The city and GID, the Boston-based developer that owns the 42 acres known as the High Street site, teamed up to submit a proposal to the state Economic Development Department. The state then made its bid to Amazon in a secret package delivered to Seattle by the Oct. 19 deadline.
GID has had plans for more than a decade to build a massive mixed-use development on the property. Phase One of the project, on 36 acres, included a 30-story residential tower, a 12-story office building, two seven-story residential buildings, two eight-story residential buildings, a 12-story residential building and several three-story townhouses.
Last year, GID Vice President of Development Jeff Lowenberg told members of the Dunwoody Homeowners Association plans were to break ground in 2017. Those plans haven’t panned out and calls to Lowenberg have not been returned.
Phase Two of the project included tearing down several nearby buildings on its property, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution building at 223 Perimeter Center Parkway. The AJC’s lease of the building was originally set to expire in 2018, but just last month was extended through 2021, Elizabeth Olmstead, spokesperson for AJC owner Cox Enterprises, confirmed.
Dunwoody Economic Development Director Michael Starling said while GID submitted a proposal to the state, he doesn’t believe that means GID is abandoning its plans for the High Street development.
“It’s just a very complicated project,” Starling said.
Market issues and financing could be playing a role in the High Street delay, Starling said, but he noted that GID is a “very patient developer and they will wait to get the project they want.”
When a proposal from a corporation such as Amazon comes around, it makes sense for just about everyone to throw their hat in the ring, Starling said. But with Amazon, he thinks people are too focused on the site and not any of the other specifications Amazon is looking for, such as quality of life and available workforce.
“The site will work itself out in the end,” he said.
Councilmember Terry Nall, donning a new Dunwoody Senior Baseball hat he was presented at the farewell-to-the-fields event, is focused on location and said the 42-acre High Street site is too small for Amazon.
But High Street combined with the former GM site in Doraville — that maybe could work, he said. “As a standalone, High Street is a tight space,” he said.
The idea of Amazon maybe coming to Dunwoody is exciting, acknowledged Nall, “but it really depends on how many jobs would be at the High Street location.”
Councilmembers John Heneghan and Lynn Deutsch were volunteering at the Harvest Fall Fest, signing up volunteers and selling tickets to carnival games.
“I think it’s exciting Dunwoody is in the running [for Amazon],” Deutsch said.
Her concern lies mostly with tax incentives that Amazon will be seeking from its new home. “The challenge for local municipalities is that if you don’t give incentives, the county can come in behind you and give incentives and then you [as a city] lose all control,” she said.
She said a project like Amazon would likely have state tax incentives to finance infrastructure improvements, especially with transit. But the city’s Development Authority may also be called on to provide some kind of tax abatements.
Deutsch acknowledged there is a lot of excitement in the city in just being considered for the project, but there also are plenty of people who have voiced concerns to her about the number of people that would be moving to the area.
Heneghan said he would love to see Amazon come to Dunwoody, but knows there would be a great deal of work to be done by the City Council.
“There would be challenges as well as benefits to the community in so many different ways,” he said. “I would be excited to work through them.”