Seattle leaders look to push ‘refresh’ button with Amazon – Seattle Times

A month after Amazon’s surprise announcement it will open a second headquarters outside Seattle, some local politicians want to rebuild the city’s relationship with its largest employer.

A letter signed by a majority of Seattle City Council members as well as some state legislators, port commissioners and education officials, says to the extent the company’s headquarters decision “was based on Amazon feeling unwelcome in Seattle, or not being included in some of our regional decisions, we would like to hit the refresh button.”

“You have heard mixed messages from our community, whether it stems from comments in our local newspapers or comments from elected officials who have differing views and positions that are less than collaborative,” said the letter, obtained by The Seattle Times.

“This does not leave a good taste in anyone’s mouth,” adds the letter, dated Oct. 13, and addressed to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and John Schoettler, the company’s global real-estate chief and public face on Seattle issues.

Amazon’s HQ & HQ2

It was not clear whether the letter had been sent to Amazon as of Monday. Joe Mirabella, spokesman for the Seattle Office of Economic Development, said Seattle City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw and state Sen. Guy Palumbo, D-Maltby, took the lead on the letter, submitting it to be included in a regional bid for the online retailer’s second headquarters.

Mirabella said the letter is separate from a package put together for the regional bid by the Office of Economic Development and Mayor Tim Burgess.

Amazon has received the letter. A spokesman declined to comment further. The letter comes ahead of the Oct. 19 deadline for cities across North America to bid on consideration for the second headquarters.

Seattle itself isn’t bidding to host Amazon’s second headquarters, but instead is lending its support to a joint proposal by King County and Snohomish County that suggest the company use any of a range of sites, from Everett to Bellevue and Tukwila. 

Besides Bagshaw and Palumbo, the letter was signed by councilmembers Lisa Herbold, M. Lorena Gonzalez, Rob Johnson and council president Bruce Harrell. The 25 signers also include state Sens. Reuven Carlyle and Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, state Rep. Javier Valdez, D-Seattle, and state Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island.

The officials call for “a new relationship” to “realign how we live and work with you in our community.” They propose a joint task force with Amazon that would tackle issues of mutual benefit, including transportation, freight mobility, safety and education.

For example, the letter suggests working on improvements to worsening traffic congestion in the South Lake Union neighborhood where Amazon is based. It says a work group including local transportation agencies and a dedicated city planner should be assembled to help.

“Let’s work together to map out the current commute patterns of your employees and identify potential infrastructure and transit solutions,” said the letter.

Similar work would take place on public safety concerns, freight mobility, the “gig economy” and public education, the letter suggests.

“These ideas are just the beginning. We want to be your partners and reset the creative and economic environment in South Lake Union as well as for neighborhoods across our city and region. Our ears are wide open and we look forward to hearing from you,” the letter concludes.

Seattle and state officials were caught off guard by Amazon’s announcement last month that the company was seeking a second home. In the weeks that followed, political and business leaders noted that the company is often criticized as a contributor for traffic, rising housing costs, and other growing pains. But they didn’t highlight an obvious flashpoint between Amazon and the city or state that would push the company to sour on the city.

Interviews and public records describe a relationship that is cordial and often transactional, largely focused on Amazon’s massive physical expansion in South Lake Union. That covers issues like the city’s ceding of alleys to make way for Amazon’s towers, requests for the city’s help nudging stalled permits, and the occasional speaking opportunity or public event.

Still, for a company that thinks long term, there’s a downside to being viewed in some quarters as a scapegoat for Seattle’s troubles, some say.

“One or two of my former colleagues on the (city) council often make comments that I think people in the business community have interpreted as anti-business,” Mayor Tim Burgess said last  month. “I think some, maybe at Amazon and others in the biz community, have expressed some perspective and feelings that they don’t always feel welcome at City Hall.”

Seattle Times staff reporter Daniel Beekman contributed to this report.


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