As Cleveland hides Amazon bid, other cities share details, some unwillingly: Mark Naymik

CLEVELAND, Ohio – While Cleveland leaders refuse to share with the public the details of the public subsidies they are dangling to bring Amazon’s second headquarters to the Northeast Ohio, some of their counterparts in competing cities have shared details of their respective bids with their taxpayers.

Some have done so without the blessing of the business and political leaders controlling the bid process. In other cases, politicians have remembered who elected them and made details available. Some have redacted parts of the bid, but nonetheless offered far more than anything Cleveland’s business and civic leaders think you deserve.

Those details from other cities are instructive because they indicate how much taxpayers are being asked to kick in. We’re talking billions of dollars, in one case. Of course, Northeast Ohio taxpayers aren’t being asked anything. Their tax dollars are being pledged in secret.

It’s disappointing that our two biggest representatives — Cleveland Frank Jackson and Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish – remain perfectly comfortable keeping the public out of the picture and attaching their reputations to civic leaders who believe it’s so vital to keep the public away that they gave the bid a secret code name (“Conway”). Oh, but I digress.

Here’s a bit of what a few of the more than 200 cities wooing Amazon are offering.

Crain’s Detroit Business last month obtained a nine-page executive summary of the 242-page book that businessman Dan Gilbert and others submitted to entice Amazon to the Motor City. 

“The state of Michigan offered to let Inc. operate in Detroit with extensive tax breaks for three decades and capture its employees’ state income taxes for 20 years while promising to create a $120 million program to help meet the online tech giant’s workforce needs,” Crain’s reported. “The proposal to Amazon and its CEO, Jeff Bezos, says the company could operate for 30 years without paying real estate and personal property taxes, the city of Detroit’s 2 percent corporate income tax or the city’s utility users tax under the state’s Renaissance Zone Program.”

In Philadelphia, the mayor’s office released last month a heavily redacted version of the city’s 108-page bid.

“The document does, however, shed some light on how the city would accommodate the growing tech and retail behemoth within the University City and Navy Yard sites,” reported. “At the planned Schuylkill Yards development in University City near 30th Street Station, Amazon’s immediate need for 500,000 square feet of space would be satisfied in the Cira Centre office building and the former Bulletin newspaper building, which is being redeveloped into what developer Brandywine Realty Trust has named One Drexel Plaza.”

The Chicago Tribune ferreted out the massive tax-incentives being offered by its hometown and the state of Illinois.

“The city political leaders entered the nationwide competition to land the online retail giant’s 50,000 jobs by offering $2 billion in incentives while hinting they were willing to dig even deeper,” the paper reported in October.

The paper also reported that the politicians offered to spend “an additional $250 million that would not go to Amazon directly but would pay to train up a workforce from which the mega tech company could hire.”

In a recent story about how some cities, including Cleveland and Pittsburgh, have avoided releasing information about the Amazon bids, the Associated Press included a roundup of what some other cities have offered to Amazon.

New Jersey’s pitch contains $7 billion in tax breaks , a draft of Houston’s plan calls for about $268 million in inducements, and Boston’s offer includes $75 million for affordable housing for Amazon employees and others,” the AP said.

To date, Cleveland leaders continue hold their cards close, having stated earlier that they believe it’s a winning strategy.

Cleveland may indeed win — at being the most secretive. And I’m sure Amazon’s CEO, who owns the open-government championing Washington Post, will be impressed.