Fairfield helps put out welcome mat for Amazon

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.David McNew /

FAIRFIELD — Count Fairfield among those courting online retail giant Amazon.

Amazon is looking for a home for its $5 billion North American headquarters for the Seattle-based business, and there is an Oct. 19 deadline for submitting proposals.

Community and Economic Development Director Mark Barnhart said the town is supporting the state’s efforts to bring Amazon to Connecticut, providing help to both Stamford’s and Bridgeport/New Haven’s efforts.

To that end, Barnhart said, the town has provided information the Fairfield Metro Center site as a

“candidate site, which is ‘shovel-ready’ and approved for roughly 1 million square feet of office development with on-site access to rail, which are among the criteria laid out by Amazon.”

The Metro Center property on lower Black Rock Turnpike would not be a primary site for Amazon, Barnhart said, but rather a supporting site for the Bridgeport/New Haven application. “There are a number of other sites in the region that can accommodate the desired square footage.”

Should any community in Connecticut, or Fairfield County, land Amazon, Barnhart said, the entire region would benefit.

“We have indicated to both the state and surrounding cities that we will do whatever we can to support their efforts,” Barnhart said.

He said given that Amazon is seeking to locate to a metropolitan area of 1 million in population, and wants to develop up to 8 million square feet and employ 50,000 people, “anything less than a regional approach is foolhardy.”

The state Department of Community and Economic Development will choose which application to submit to Amazon.

The Fairfield Metro Center, first proposed in the 1990s, originally called for office space, along with some retail and a Hilton Hotel. But after going through years of permitting, the real estate market collapsed, and the only thing that has opened at the 35-acre site is the train station.

Plans to swap an apartment building for a commercial building met with opposition from the town, but since then, a transit-oriented overlay zoning district was approved for the Commerce Drive area. A mixed-use building, with commercial and residential units, is now open at the corner of Commerce Drive and Black Rock Turnpike. A pedestrian walkway from the apartment building to the train station is planned.

Connecticut still plans to bid to host Amazon’s planned second headquarters, although state officials said they recognize the stiff competition from cities around the country.

In a speech Tuesday in Stamford, state Economic Development Commissioner Catherine Smith confirmed the state would submit an application by the Oct. 19 deadline. She said Connecticut is on Amazon’s radar, with the e-commerce giant operating a distribution center in Windsor and planning to open another one in North Haven.

“We have gotten to know some of their real estate people pretty well,” Smith said in the speech at the Crowne Plaza hotel. “We’ve had many conversations with them, as recently as two days ago, about this bid. We feel like we understand what they’re looking for.”

Key details such as the number of proposed sites and the extent of subsidies Connecticut would offer in its proposal have not been finalized. The state has received 17 site proposals, Smith said in an interview after the speech.

“The short list will be the ones we think have the greatest opportunity and meet the criteria,” Smith said. “And then we’ll try to evaluate among those how many we think are appropriate to submit.”

A number of municipal officials in Fairfield County have said this month they think their communities could host Amazon’s second hub. The Seattle-based company is looking for a site that could house as many 50,000 people.

Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim said in a joint statement with Fairfield First Selectman Mike Tetreau, “We believe that the city of Bridgeport and Fairfield County have the attributes and meet the criteria that Amazon is looking for.”

“We look at Stamford and the lower Fairfield County region as well-positioned and as a desirable location for the second Amazon headquarters,” said Thomas Madden, Stamford’s director of economic development. “We’re currently working with our regional partners and (the state) on this. We hope to put forward a bold proposal.”

Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton released a video touting his city’s attributes.

Despite public officials’ enthusiasm, Connecticut could not easily amass the office space needed to equal Amazon’s Seattle headquarters, which encompasses more than 8 million square feet of space across 33 buildings.

With a 31 percent office vacancy rate, Stamford could offer about 5 million square feet of available space, according to Newmark Knight Frank’s most recent report. Danbury’s Matrix Corporate Center, one of the largest office complexes in Fairfield County, is mostly vacant at 1.3 million square feet. The former General Electric headquarters in Fairfield, sold to Sacred Heart University, holds about 550,000 square feet.

“While I know it is a long shot, because the competition here is pretty steep — it’s pretty much every city in the whole United States — it’s been a very good experience for us to work as a state to see how we can find the right opportunities for Amazon to join our state,” Smith said.

greilly@ctpost.com; @GreillyPost