A boon if suburbs land 'Amazon HQ2' but mass challenges follow success
Should Amazon choose Schaumburg or Oak Brook for its second headquarters, it would be a huge boon to the suburbs, bringing an estimated 50,000 jobs with salaries averaging close to $100,000 -- creating a giant ripple effect on the local economy.
In Schaumburg, the 322-acre former Motorola Solutions campus is one potential site for the retail behemoth. In Oak Brook, it's the more than 150-acre campus fast-food giant McDonald's is leaving next year for new digs in Chicago. They are among 10 Illinois sites in the running and part of a regional bid from metropolitan Chicago. The company is expected to announce a short list before naming the winner early next year. But as many as 50 metro areas are trying to woo Amazon and all the perks it will bring.
With those perks come numerous challenges: How might an urban environment be created, allowing employees to ride a bike or take public transportation to work, a big deal to the Seattle-based company? And, that aside, what upgrades are needed for existing roads? Is there sufficient nearby housing? Infrastructure?
The Daily Herald asked leaders of these communities for their views on such issues, but they declined to discuss them, citing confidentiality agreements as a condition of the bid. Instead, the newspaper talked to public works directors, and local and regional business officials for their views on what kind of work the suburbs need to do in order to become the perfect location for what's being called Amazon HQ2.
The Oak Brook campus has served as McDonald's headquarters for more than 40 years. It's directly off I-88, with one main entrance from Jorie Boulevard and other smaller employee entrances along its perimeter. Few options exist for employees who prefer to take public transportation or bike to work.
The main mass transit option for McDonald's workers is taking the Metra train to downtown Hinsdale, then a Pace bus for several miles.
John Carpenter, president and CEO of Choose DuPage, noted that public transportation "is an issue of great importance to Amazon."
Carpenter said he believes Oak Brook "will do what it can to respond" to transportation needs, citing the success of a Innova EV's pilot electric car ride-sharing service between the Itasca Metra Station and Hamilton Lakes Business Park as an example of what's possible.
Schaumburg, too, recognizes the mass transit problem.
"The largest conversation we're going to be hearing is about mass transit improvement," said Dave Parulo, president of Meet Chicago Northwest, a suburban visitors bureau based in Schaumburg.
Kaili Harding, president of the Schaumburg Business Association, said she's confident Amazon's interest could create the political will necessary to extend the CTA's Blue Line west from O'Hare International Airport to the site.
With that resolved, most of the other requirements are in place, including access to one of the nation's largest transportation hubs, she added.
Also, the site benefits from the proximity of Metra stations within several miles to the north and south, while all of Schaumburg has bus service routed through the Northwest Transportation Center just west of the Streets of Woodfield Mall, said Julie Fitzgerald, community development director.
Where to live or stay
In Schaumburg alone, there are 30 hotels with 4,800 rooms. In the Northwest suburbs, 67 hotels create about 10,000 guest rooms.
Less certain, though, is whether either town is willing to build additional housing for thousands of employees.
"There is a lot of development being considered right now that's mixed use, particularly along the train lines," Parulo said. He cites the success of such developments in downtowns of Arlington Heights, Aurora and Naperville.
Adds Choose DuPage's Carpenter, "The Chicago area is a big market. Not everyone is going to live in the same municipality that the facility is located in."
Redevelopment plans now under consideration for the former Motorola campus call for a residential component. The village of Schaumburg's consultants have identified a capacity for 2,700 housing units of different types that could accompany an office space capacity of 3.3 million square feet -- a third of which is already spoken for by Zurich North America and Motorola Solutions' remaining presence.
Developer UrbanStreet Group LLC owns the 225 acres where most of the remaining redevelopment is planned.
Village Manager Brian Townsend said there is a willingness to adapt the current plans to accommodate Amazon.
Oak Brook Public Works Director Doug Patchin said the village has a leg up on infrastructure, though expansion undoubtedly will be needed if Amazon comes to town.
While preparing its bid, Oak Brook examined water mains, fiber optic network and other utilities on the McDonald's campus, Patchin said.
Improvements likely are needed, but "it's doable."
As the longtime global headquarters of Motorola, the southwest corner of Algonquin and Meacham roads is no stranger to traffic. But a new interchange on Meacham provides the site access to the I-90 Tollway that Motorola never previously had.
Harding with the Schaumburg Business Association said such a major development as Amazon would still cause some growing pains on local roadways, but, "I know that whatever happens, we have the resources here to make it a win-win."
"If you think about other tech areas, they aren't all necessarily in city centers," said Meet Chicago Northwest's Parulo, noting California's Silicon Valley.
"That connectivity and walkability is going to naturally happen. I don't think we are alone ... there are other high-tech locations that are suburban like us."
Harding says the area already has the talent pool needed to accommodate Amazon. Plus, not everyone will have the desire to stay in an urban setting throughout their careers.
"Paylocity (a Schaumburg-based online payroll software company) said what kept them here was that not everyone wants to live in the city, as cool as it is right now," she said.
With its existing night life, hotels and amenities, Schaumburg already is a business center with a global outlook, Harding said. Plus, there's a possibility of a performing arts center being built on the other side of Meacham Road.
"I think it would be a huge win to bring a proposal like (Amazon's) to the region, as well as for the state as a whole," Harding said.
Meanwhile, DuPage officials count on ever-increasing urbanity along Metra's Burlington Northern route.
"I think the marketplace will determine what those places look like," Carpenter said. "It won't be River North."