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Officials: Amazon deal took a year to gel

The announcement that Amazon.com Inc. would bring a huge new fulfillment center to Southeast Baltimore was about a year in the making, city and state officials said Wednesday — and Baltimore wasn’t the only location under consideration.

The major players in securing the deal included the online retailer itself, site developer Duke Realty, the state Department of Business and Economic Development, the Baltimore Development Corp. and city government. One key sweetener: a variety of financial and tax incentives to woo Amazon. They include a conditional loan of $1.25 million from DBED, to which the city, through BDC, is adding a 10 percent match, or $125,000.

Amazon is also eligible to apply for a number of tax credits, some of them applicable to the location of the Chesapeake Commerce Center, the Duke Realty development on Holabird Avenue that will house the fulfillment center, and some related to the jobs the 1 million-square-foot facility will provide. Amazon will bring about at least 1,000 jobs to the area, and state and city officials say they hope for more. Most of the jobs will likely be entry level, and City Hall hopes a large number will go to city residents.

The deal was announced Tuesday, but state and city officials worked with the property developer and Amazon throughout the year to make it a reality.

“Close to a year ago we started hearing about their search,” said Dominick Murray, Maryland’s secretary of economic development.

The online retailer was considering several different locations, DBED said, but Amazon wouldn’t tell where the alternatives were. So the state and city stressed the advantages of the Southeast Baltimore location, which Murray said included the available workforce and existing infrastructure.

“When we tie in the location and the availability of a ready and trained workforce, that’s really where we excelled,” said Brenda McKenzie, BDC president and CEO.

The densely populated city, she said, will provide a larger and more accessible employment base than a less urban location would have done.

“That is one of the things we’re working on, is to make sure our city residents have opportunities,” said Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake at a press conference Wednesday.

When Mayor Rawlings-Blake first entered the discussion about the site, Amazon had already been working with BDC officials, she said.

The city then took some steps to move the process along.

It assisted Merchants Terminal Corp. with the purchase of 14 acres at the Duke site for use as a cold storage facility that Amazon could use, according to Caron Brace, press secretary for the mayor. The city also helped Merchants navigate permitting processes and enrollment in the enterprise zone and foreign trade zone.

Rawlings-Blake said the state is working with Duke Realty and the Maryland Transit Administration on increasing bus accessibility at the Holabird Avenue site. She added that more employers are expected to move there.

Photo of Chesapeake Commerce Center

Duke Realty, the developer of Chesapeake Commerce Center on Holabird Avenue, where Amazon is planning to locate, already has tenants in the existing buildings at the site.

Amazon will be taking up most of the land that is left at the site, said DBED spokesperson Karen Glenn Hood, but a few smaller buildings remain. Murray said he had no knowledge of who the tenants of that space might be.

“Duke is very aggressive in terms of making sure they are fully tenanted,” said McKenzie. “They have been spot on in terms of working collaboratively with the city and the state and Amazon to make sure all of the needs will be met.”

Local representatives for Indianapolis-based Duke Realty could not be reached for comment.

McKenzie said that she hopes the Amazon deal will open the eyes of other major companies to the opportunities available at this property, and elsewhere in the area.

Tom Sadowski, president and CEO of the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore and Donald C. Fry, president of the Greater Baltimore Committee, echoed this sentiment.

“I think obviously many of these major projects require the cooperation of the state and the city or local officials,” said Fry. “It’s good to see that we’ve had that kind of collaboration.”

While city officials focused on the benefit to the city, the jobs at Chesapeake Commerce Center affect surrounding areas as well. The site is less than a mile from the Baltimore County line in Dundalk.

“We are delighted about it because there are a large number of county residents who live near there,” said Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz. “It is a win for the region.”

Kamenetz said he was not involved in the deal with Amazon. But he said it “enhances our proposals” for redevelopment at Sparrows Point, the shuttered steel mill near the Amazon site.