When Charlotte failed to make the top 20 in Amazon’s frenzy-inducing search for a second headquarters last year, all we knew for sure about potential sites was that there were about two-dozen of them in the Queen City’s bid.
What we now know, based on the trove of bid-related documents released by the city, is that two of those potential sites were in the Lake Norman area, and another was just a short jaunt up Interstate 77.
In Cornelius, the 69-acre Cooke Farms property, which runs along the west side of I-77 between Exits 25 and 28, was one of the bid’s several proposed properties outside the Charlotte city limits.
So was a lakefront tract just east of I-77 Exit 31, off Langtree Road in Mooresville. County economic development officials said last year that they expect up to $1 billion in investment on that site in what could become a 400-acre mixed-use development.
The third north-of-the-border option in Charlotte’s bid was in the 1,000-acre Larkin property, just east of I-77 Exit 45, on the southern edge of Statesville.
When Amazon finally announced its decision in November, the e-commerce and technology giant threw everyone a curve by announcing that its “H2Q” actually would be split in two, with half ending up in New York City and the other half in Arlington, Va., outside Washington, D.C.
Some of Amazon’s bid specifications, including access to a quality transit system, made Charlotte – and the Lake Norman sites – a longshot from the start (although Raleigh, not known for its transit advances, did make the top 20).
And the thought of an eventual 50,000 workers (nearly the entire population of Huntersville) in the area would likely have triggered chronic migraines for the public officials and planners charged with adequately upfitting infrastructure in response.
“The most significant challenge would be transportation to and from the site,” Ryan McDaniels, executive director of Lake Norman Economic Development, said in reference to the Cooke Farms site.
The N.C. Department of Transportation, Charlotte Area Transit System and the town of Cornelius would have had to collaborate on a “multi-modal option” to provide access the site, he explained.
“A new interchange would have been highly likely, and improvements to Exits 25 and 28 as well,” he added.
To put the enormity of the new Amazon headquarters into context, the ambitious estimate is that corporate development at the Langtree site is expected to generate up to 3,500 jobs, said Russ Rogerson, president and CEO of the Iredell County Economic Development Corp.
Corvid Technologies, whose clients range from the U.S. Missile Defense Agency to NASCAR, will be the first occupant of Silicon Shores when its new $28.9 million, 15-acre corporate headquarters campus opens there. The company said it hopes to complete its new HQ on Transco Road by this summer.
The extension of water and sewer service to the area and a planned East-West Connector Road – aimed at improving traffic flow between Exit 31 on I-77 and Langtree Road, to N.C. 115 – are critical to the development of the area, noted Rogerson, who added that an Amazon-sized project would have required even more improvements.
“Obviously the Amazon project was and is very unique in many ways, specifically its large employment numbers,” he said. “A project of this nature will generate challenges and opportunities from an infrastructure standpoint for any location – including the two that were eventually chosen. If the project would have moved forward, these infrastructure challenges and opportunities would have been explored fully.”
Many of the more than 230 bidders who didn’t land HQ2 – or 3 – still came up with some creative ideas on using their sites, including for the Cooke Farms property.
“One concept was to have office buildings on both sides of the interstate, with a bridge connecting the two sites for vehicle, pedestrian and bike traffic,” McDaniels said. “The headquarters would also (have included) a connection to the McDowell Creek Greenway.”