Is Austin ready to handle new Amazon headquarters?

FILE - In this Tuesday, May 30, 2017, file photo, the Amazon logo is displayed at the Nasdaq MarketSite, in New York's Times Square. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)
FILE - In this Tuesday, May 30, 2017, file photo, the Amazon logo is displayed at the Nasdaq MarketSite, in New York's Times Square. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Time is running out for Austin leaders to officially make a bid to bring Amazon’s second headquarters to Central Texas. On Wednesday, in a joint letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Texas Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz urged Amazon to come saying “everything is bigger in Texas including our economy, workforce and quality of life.”

With tens of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in investment at stake, leaders in multiple cities want to court Amazon.

“Well I think it’s a pretty incredible opportunity because of the scale,” said Austin Mayor Steve Adler. “Perhaps we can achieve things that would help us with affordability or mobility in ways that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to do.”

But what about the downside? Pumping 50,000 employees into Austin over five years could be an all out “Armageddon.”

“It’ll change Austin dramatically and not always for the best,” said Robert Young, an assistant professor of Community and Regional Planning at the University of Texas. If Austin is awarded the Amazon bid, Young says we will no longer be a city, but rather a sanitized giant corporate campus.

“It will no longer be Keep Austin Weird, it will be Keep Austin Wealthy, that’ll be the outcome,” he said.

Young says making Austin Amazon’s new home means you could kiss any chance of affordability goodbye. Traffic? That will only get worse. More families means crammed schools and higher rent. Solutions, he says, will have to come before Amazon does.

“If you want to put in real rent control, real property tax reform, then you can have your cake and eat it too, you can have a diverse city and dynamic economy,” Young said.

Not only could it create a logistical nightmare, Young also worries Austin will suffer a major identity crisis.

“Austin is a 27-year-old kid going down to ACL, he’s got a couple extra beers in his backpack and he’s going to have a great time and that’s a great city and that’s been the spirit of the city,” Young said. “But that’s not the city that’s going to be able to handle Amazon.”

Mayor Adler is excited for the opportunity and potential conversations but wants to keep something very specific to Austin.

“There is a special spirit and soul to Austin and I don’t want that to change. So I don’t want international notoriety if that means we lose what it is that is special about this city. If bringing in a company to the scale of Amazon can help us preserve and protect the ‘specialness’ and magical nature of this city, then that’s something we ought to engage in,” said Mayor Adler.

According to the Austin Chamber of Commerce, Amazon has already more than doubled its Austin presence in the past year with 900 employees, not including Whole Foods, along with 3,000-plus in San Marcos.

The chamber also told KXAN they are working hard this week on preparing an official bid to Amazon before the deadline on Oct. 19.

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