Thursday, August 24, 2017

Welcome to Amazonia

I still keep up with Seattle's news and this was not news as it was only a matter of time before Amazon on its quest to be the biggest company ever in the history of the world would in fact turn Seattle into its bitch.

A little over a year ago the New York Times did an unfavorable profile on the company and the affects on the city and its character and they were not off the mark.  Then over time Bezos took on some philanthropy, bought The Washington Post and seemingly allowed it to thrive, bought out Whole Foods and for about a hot minute was the richest man in the World/America/Space.

With that the Carpetbaggers to the Northwest have arrived and put homelessness at a national crisis, with Seattle having the largest homeless school population enrolled in its public schools, a fight over the minimum wage and its actual affects on workers, the issue of legal pot,  a Mayor under scandal and irony putting Seattle as number two in rising cost of living to where?  NASHVILLE!  It must be me.

Living in a Company town makes the entire city co-dependent on the robber barons and oligarchs that dominate the corporate hierarchy.  The wealthy who will dictate the political and economic climate and subsequent businesses and services that are there to serve them.  Ask those in Detroit, Cleveland and other such former  company towns.  And I am sure they thought it would never end. But welcome to the target on the back as in this free market economy led by the current Oligarch in chief means that Google and now Walmart joining forces this too means war just of a civil nature.

So what does this mean for a town like Nashville? Well they will never attract the intellectual monied class that tech attracts.  There is no State income tax in Washington State, the weather is better, the International Airport has always been there and functional with Vancouver a three hour/one hour flight away to lend to travel access and in turn Microsoft and other Billionaires have lived there for decades in the same privacy and suburbian life on a lake that is one of many that dot the Emerald City.  When it comes to landscape Seattle will only have one rival, San Francisco.

As for Nashville the only industry here that has this much clout is the Music industry and they are still nowhere near the level of influence that the tech sector possess.   The Medical and Hospitality Trade are still the largest employer and the other Bridgestone is not interested in anything outside their own business.  They have no world growth ambition let alone local presence.   We will never see Bridgestonians flocking the streets as you see in Seattle with Amazon.  This is a Capital City and the after the Government offices shut at 4:13 you see the flocking away from the "downtown" as there is no downtown frankly to encourage as such. 

And despite the constant push that 85-100 people move here a day I question how long they stay, what their qualifications or purpose are as the last stat said 85% arrrive with no jobs and those I meet are usually Uber/Lyft drivers, work in hospitality and have no clear plans or long rang goals. So what it seems is often transient and I too fit into that category with plans to leave within the next 3-4 years.

Then you have the "politics" of the red sea that veers between bizarre to oppressive with the State Legislature overturning any progressive attempts by either Nashville or Memphis to build a larger economic base that would relocate if said accommodations were available - such as Marijuana - legal or medical;  LGBT rights, massive transit, a well established infrastructure with a proper downtown core as Seattle has, and of course quality education.  When Vanderbilt is the private secular choice and the other public Universities are struggling to attract diverse population that leaves the non secular Belmont, Lipscomb and Trevecca.  So why come here to go to TSU? I have no clue as I hear nothing good and I am unsure why unless it is about race and that might be the only real problem as it is located in the "bad" hood.   Talk to a local native Nashvillian and they live and breathe fear constantly about perceived violence, real or otherwise.  It is all we hear every day - crime and more crime.   Why would you come here?   And again when I am asked it is what I respond to shut that down as even I think well it could have been anywhere but I am here.    And I struggle daily with what that means as it has truly affected my feelings about race and poverty that I never had until I moved here.  But Seattle I have no desire to go back to and I truly don't miss it. I suspect those who live there feel the same way about the old Seattle.  But hey again it could be Detroit/Cleveland/Pittsburg and they are trying to do what Seattle has achieved and Nashville wishes for.

Careful for what you wish for.  Welcome to Amazonia.

Thanks to Amazon, Seattle is now America’s biggest company town

1.6 million square feet downtown, more than any other company. It took years for the downtown office market to recover after WaMu was absorbed by JPMorgan Chase and its headquarters employees were dispersed. The market only fully bounced back once the recession was fully in the rearview mirror and Amazon began expanding earlier this decade.

‘A sea of parking lots’

Amazon got its start in a Bellevue garage in 1994, and it first grew without much of a plan — its employees were scattered in various downtown Seattle buildings and in the former Pacific Medical Center building on Beacon Hill. When Schoettler, the Amazon real-estate executive, joined the company in 2001, it had 630,000 square feet in Seattle.

In 2005, Schoettler said, he told CEO Jeff Bezos that the company needed a plan, and Bezos agreed. His only condition was that Amazon would stay in downtown Seattle, Schoettler said.

That coincided with the reversal of a decades-long outflow from U.S. cities to their suburbs: By staying in the urban core, Amazon would attract members of the hip creative class.

“It was a very conscious decision we made,” Schoettler said.

The easiest place for Amazon to grow into was South Lake Union. “It was essentially a sea of parking lots,” Ada Healy, vice president of real estate at Vulcan, billionaire Paul Allen’s real-estate firm — which built much of Amazon’s campus — said at a recent real-estate conference.

Allen had paid for 11.5 acres he intended to donate to an urban park project called the Seattle Commons. But when voters turned it down — twice, most recently in 1996 — the land went to Allen. His Vulcan development company then gobbled up more land in the neighborhood over the following decade, giving it about 60 acres.

Amazon’s first request was for about 2 million square feet, to be delivered in 2010. That initial expansion, Schoettler said at the real-estate conference, “was supposed to last us through 2016.”

As it turned out, by then the company would have three times as much.

That’s because its Seattle payroll was growing even faster than expected. The company now employs about 40,000 employees in Seattle, up from 5,000 in 2010.

Now it is by far the largest employer in the city. Under Amazon’s current plans, there will be room in Seattle for more than 55,000 Amazonians at the beginning of next decade.

Amazon later acquired another 2 million square feet from Vulcan, and some 3.3 million square feet from Clise Properties in the Denny Regrade, formerly a realm of cheap motels and car dealerships. There, Amazon is building the epicenter of its campus around three 40-story towers and three giant spheres.

Altogether, Amazon occupies or plans to be in about three dozen office buildings in Seattle.
This breakneck rate of expansion, in contiguous land, “would be difficult to do in a lot of other metropolitan areas,” Schoettler said.

Amazon’s expansion has led, in the short time since the end of the recession, to a “record level of private investment,” as well as significant levels of public infrastructure investment, according to John Scholes, CEO of the Downtown Seattle Association.

Over the last decade, South Lake Union has seen $668 million in infrastructure improvements, from a new electrical substation under construction to the revamped Mercer Street to a new streetcar line to upgraded parks. About one-sixth of the cost has come from private investment, the rest from ratepayers and public funds.

Housing, traffic impacts

Amazon has become the go-to scapegoat for people complaining about Seattle’s problems associated with growth, like housing prices and clogged streets. And while it’s certainly not the only reason Seattle is bursting at the seams, Amazon makes up a disproportionate share of the city’s rapid growth.

Apartment rents this year are 63 percent higher than in 2010, as Seattle has become the fastest-growing city in the country.

Home costs are rising faster here than anywhere in the nation, and have doubled in the past five years, pushing the middle class to surrounding, less expensive towns.

Seattle now also has the nation’s third-highest concentration of mega-commuters — people traveling at least 90 minutes each way to work. Their numbers have grown 72 percent in five years.

Buses are more packed than ever, and lines that run along the Amazon campus are often standing-room-only during rush hour; Metro drivers at times have to leave commuters waiting outside an Amazon office because their buses are full. Local officials even added buses to accommodate the crush of Amazon interns that arrived this summer.

“It’s hard to keep pace in terms of development of infrastructure,” said Simon Stevenson, the director of the Runstad Center for Real Estate Studies at the University of Washington. But overall, “the positives, economically, outweigh the potential of the downside.”

Wages here are rising faster than anywhere else in the country, driven by Amazon’s hiring binge of employees making six figures. Unemployment is near record lows.

Local celebrity chef Tom Douglas, who operates 16 restaurants in the area, including several in the South Lake Union epicenter of Amazon’s boom, has seen the transformation since he arrived in Seattle in 1984.

He says that despite the traffic and high cost of living, he’d rather have the growth happening here than in another city.

“There’s this romantic notion about Seattle. I’ve been here long enough to see both sides of this,” he said. Douglas recalled how the opening of Dahlia Lounge on Fourth Avenue, in 1989, “was a tough go.”

“There were crackheads in the 7-Eleven next door to us. We barely made it,” he said. “We should be thankful for the prosperity we have right now. I think we should embrace it.”

Amazon has also begun turning around the reputation that it’s done little to alleviate the problems stemming from Seattle’s growth. The company recently said it would house a homeless shelter in one of its new offices and is offering nonprofits space for restaurants in some of its other buildings. It donated $10 million to the University of Washington last fall, created plazas for public use and has helped underwrite the South Lake Union streetcar.

A real-estate revolution

Amazon’s growth has been so substantial that it can single-handedly skew the city’s core office market, said Matthew Gardner, the chief economist of Windermere Real Estate.

In the last quarter of 2016, for instance, all non-Amazon employers in Seattle’s greater downtown region shrank by a combined 150,000 square feet of office space. But Amazon gained 408,000 square feet by itself, making it a positive quarter for the market overall.

“They’re kind of almost juicing the market in some respects,” Gardner said.

Amazon’s supercharged growth has made it harder for other companies to find available offices in the entire downtown core, said Eric Blohm, a senior managing director for Savills Studley, which represents companies looking for office space.

The company’s expansive effect is being felt well beyond the South Lake Union and Denny Regrade neighborhoods. Amazon recently leased 400,000 square feet in Bellevue, and various real-estate sources said the company is interested in taking over the entire office portion of a forthcoming 58-story downtown Seattle skyscraper at Rainier Square, scheduled to open in 2019. Amazon declined to comment on the potential expansion.

If that move happens, it would have a cascading effect on availability for other businesses in the core of downtown, outside of South Lake Union, Blohm said.

Previously, he said, “A landlord in that (downtown) market couldn’t really say, ‘Oh we’re holding out for Amazon’ … Now they would have some ammunition to say that.”

Amazon’s growing mass has also created a gravitational pull for other big tech companies on the prowl for employees. Google and Facebook have set up big offices in Seattle’s urban core, and by the end of the decade they are both poised to be among the top 10 tenants in the city.

Apple, Airbnb, Uber, the makers of Snapchat and others have also set up shop downtown following Amazon’s success in recruiting engineering talent.

That, said Seslen, the University of Washington professor, helps strengthen the local tech community.

Because Amazon does not have an isolated suburban campus like Microsoft, “there’s more opportunity for employees at Amazon to network with their peers at other companies,” she said.

But that influx of deep-pocketed tech giants also makes it more difficult and expensive for smaller businesses to find space.

“Some landlords aren’t even talking to us about (leasing) full floors,” Blohm said. “They’re holding out for the full building user. Or they’ll say, ‘Get in line, you’re third in line, we’re talking with other people.’ ”

Revitalizing retail

Although Amazon, the world’s largest e-commerce company, has been long criticized for destroying Main Street retail jobs, in Seattle’s case the influx of Amazon jobs has been accompanied by a boom in local retail.

Between 2010 and 2015, retail sales in downtown Seattle have grown more than 19 percent annually — much faster than in nearby cities, according to the Downtown Seattle Association. Just in 2015, sales spiked 27.5 percent to some $1.4 billion. By comparison, Bellevue sales grew by 13.3 percent and Redmond’s by 5.7 percent that year.

Scholes, the Downtown Seattle Association president, says there’s been a shift toward beverage and food services, a corollary of the expanding downtown residential population, many of them well-paid.

Even department stores — a category that’s been eviscerated by Amazon’s success elsewhere — have been buoyed here by downtown Seattle’s increasing hubbub. Their 2015 sales rose 224 percent from the recession’s tail end in 2010, while across the lake in Bellevue, sales grew 64 percent.

Stevenson, the UW real-estate expert, said that localized retail surge is the result of Amazon breaking with the suburban campus tradition of software companies.

“Actually the benefit to downtown is enormous,” he said. “The development and revitalization would not have happened this quick without Amazon moving there and expanding that much.”

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