Halifax pitches abandoned military site for Amazon campus in declassified report


HALIFAX — A declassified Halifax regional council report reveals new details of the city’s longshot bid to woo online retail giant Amazon, including offering the site of a former military community.

The confidential report, discussed by council behind closed doors earlier this month, lays out Halifax’s planned bid to attract the e-commerce and cloud computing giant’s second North American headquarters.

The report includes a proposed location, financial incentives, labour force details and quality of life attractions.

“A successful Amazon bid would meet the objectives of any local government from an economic development perspective,” the report said. “It would attract, keep, and grow talent, investment, and jobs, and it would increase incomes and tax bases.”

The report said the municipality was considering submitting Shannon Park as the site for the new Amazon headquarters.

The abandoned military enclave in Dartmouth is more than 30 hectares of waterfront real estate across two bridges from Halifax’s core.

The location, owned by the federal Canada Lands Company, has opportunities for mass transit, active transportation, and sustainable building technologies like seawater cooling and heating, the report said.

It’s also located next to a nearly four-hectare site owned by Millbrook First Nation, and the staff report said discussions were held to potentially include the land in the bid.

Amazon said it requires more than 500,000 square feet of office space by 2019, and up to 8 million square feet beyond 2027.

Meanwhile, the Cogswell District, a mixed-used development slated to replace a sprawling concrete interchange on the northern edge of downtown Halifax, could cater to Amazon’s workforce.

It could accommodate 2,500 residents, about five per cent of the planned 50,000 employees, the report said.

Halifax’s staff report also said a nearby industrial park, close to the airport and major highways, could service Amazon’s logistics and warehouse activities.

But Halifax’s bid went beyond touting the city’s location to include financial bait.

The report highlighted efforts by Nova Scotia Business Inc., the province’s business development agency, to create an “incentives package.”

The working group putting together the bid also worked with Global Affairs Canada to include federal incentives, the report said.

Property tax incentives are also on the table, the report said.

As for meeting Amazon’s workforce requirements, the report said the company could draw upon the “broader Maritime labour force,” expanding local post-secondary course offerings, and attracting and retaining immigrants.

The Halifax Partnership, which oversaw the bid’s preparation, also underscored Halifax’s community and quality of life.

A public relations firm was hired to “build a compelling quality of life segment, package the bid, and build community support for innovative business attraction.”

Amazon, a publicly traded Internet retailer and technology company headquartered in Seattle, Wash., announced in September it plans to establish a second corporate headquarters.

The new campus could hire up to 50,000 workers with an average salary of US$100,000, it said.

In its request for proposals, Amazon said it was searching for metropolitan areas with more than one million people. Halifax’s population, including its surrounding region, is about 425,000.

Critics have dismissed Halifax’s bid, pointing out that the city doesn’t meet the criteria. Amazon also could risk turning the city into a congested company town, diluting the quality of life Halifax is so quick to boast about, opponents have said.

But the Halifax staff report said preparing the bid benefited the city, regardless of where Amazon decides to build its new offices.

“It has made Halifax more investment-ready,” the report said. “It is aimed at increasing Halifax’s investment attraction profile, even among Haligonians themselves.”

Brett Bundale, The Canadian Press