Amazon could get $50 million from Durham – and that’s just for starters

Financial incentives to lure the Amazon second headquarters to the Triangle could amount to $50 million from the city and county of Durham alone.

The total package of incentives that could be offered to the online retail giant amounts to far more than that, as it includes financial breaks from the other state and local government entities that were involved in putting together a bid for the region.

Durham’s potential contribution to the Triangle’s effort surfaced in emails obtained through public records requests and first reported on by WRAL.

In an email dated Sept. 20, Ted Conner, vice president for economic development with the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce, said financial incentives were inevitable.

“I tried not to have to ask the City or County for an incentive for Amazon, but I lost ... such a proposal is essential,” Conner wrote to Jay Gibson, general manager for Durham County government.

Conner said the city and county have incentive policies in place that could pay between $40 million and $50 million over 24 years, which could amount to $1.6 million to $2 million a year.

On Thursday, Conner told The News & Observer that his email referred to existing policies and was not a specific amount that was offered to Amazon.

Amazon has said its second headquarters project would bring $5 billion in investments and eventually up to 50,000 jobs. It solicited bids from the United States, Mexico and Canada, and 238 proposals were filed. The company plans to select one next year.

In a Sept. 21 email from Conner to Andre Pettigrew, director of the Durham Office of Economic and Workforce Development, Conner said Amazon was worth pursuing in order to build on the city’s recent efforts to develop potential sites for major projects.

“The project, if it locates here, also creates a lot of positive energy for our community that can be used to attract other companies as well, companies now seem to flock to communities achieving success,” he wrote. “Raleigh, Atlanta and Boston are prime examples of this concept.”

Pettigrew noted that a comprehensive bid by the Triangle would include investments by the state, Research Triangle Park, the Research Triangle Park Foundation and many cities and counties.

Public-private economic development partnerships are allowed to keep details like incentives in ongoing proposals secret for negotiation purposes. Some related correspondence involving public agencies is public record.

Other North Carolina applicants’ proposals have not been made public. Besides the Triangle, bids were made by the Charlotte area, the Triad and Hickory.

Earlier this year the state increased the amount of incentives available for major, “transformative” projects, which invest at least $4 billion and create at least 5,000 jobs. In return, those projects could receive full refunds on their withholding tax bills and the state can chip in money to help develop the sites.

The incentives are made through refunds of withholding taxes paid for newly created jobs. There are other kinds of financial incentives, as well.

While most local and regional entities pursuing the Amazon project have kept their specific proposals under wraps, some notably big ones have posted all or portions of theirs online, including Boston and San Francisco. The latest was Halifax, Nova Scotia, which is offering an 82-acre abandoned military community, and 8.8 acres of neighboring tribal land. The online proposal did not specify what financial incentives might be available.

A nonprofit online news site called MuckRock is attempting to collect and post all 238 proposals, and is asking people to help.

The emails also show that of the seven sites the Triangle submitted, Durham come up with three possibilities, but one of them – the planned Go Triangle transit station site at N.C. 15-501 and I-40 inside the city limits – had to be dropped because it wasn’t big enough to accommodate 8.1 million square feet. The other sites, both in Research Triangle Park, were the GSK campus with more than 400 acres; and Park Center, an office complex that includes some of the former Nortel campus.

Craig Jarvis: 919-829-4576, @CraigJ_NandO