2024-05-29 9:20 PM

What will the impact of the announced “pause” in its development in this immediate region of Amazon’s much-anticipated second national headquarters, or HQ2, mean for Falls Church’s 2.2 square miles, much less for the wider region?

The pause the giant firm announced last week seems to apply not only a slowdown in hiring, but staff reductions of up to 18,000 nationally and, in this area in particular, to plans for construction of the huge new campus in Crystal City, including an imaginative “double helix” design for its main building.

How much of the push for the development projects we are now seeing in Falls Church, just a few miles up the road from that mega-campus, has been based on the expectations of Amazon’s full buildout, and how might this new announcement of the pause impact that?

U.S. Rep. Don Beyer, whose 8th District covers both HQ2 and Falls Church, said in a statement that he’s been assured by Amazon executives they remain committed to their project.

Beyer stated, “Amazon’s representatives said their first office buildings will open as scheduled in June to accommodate 8,000 employees. While this construction pause and hiring freeze are obviously concerning, Amazon says the impact on planned infrastructure investments announced as part of the HQ2 project will be less than some fear.”

He added, “I am told Amazon has committed to covering costs created by delays in school construction, and that the housing equity fund will be unaffected. Monetary incentives were tied to economic benefits to the region and therefore have not and will not engage until established metrics are reached.”

Of course, Amazon’s pause does not come in a vacuum, but only as the latest in a slowdown of the entire tech sector in the U.S. Downsizing at Meta, the parent company of Facebook, saw 10,000 layoffs last November, Google is cutting 12,000 jobs and Microsoft 10,000.

 But according to reports, the tightening at Amazon may be less than what other tech giants are experiencing, as closure, cancellations or delays have been announced for only 100 out of a total of 1,285 Amazon sites across the U.S.

Right now, there have been no indicators that Amazon’s decision is having a material effect on projects that have been full steam ahead in Falls Church, including at the west end and downtown, where massive projects remain on schedule.

Both of those projects are going up fast, the former being the 10 acres at the site of the former high school where a wide mix of uses is going in, including according to News-Press sources, quietly some Amazon facilities, and at the Broad and Washington city center, where the Insight project set to become home to a mega-giant Whole Foods and new home for the Creative Cauldron theater, is going in, as well as hundreds of new apartments.

The “critical mass” the Little City is hoping to get from these projects, and two others already approved – the One City Center above Ireland’s Four Provinces and the Founders Row 2 on the former Rite Aid/Carpet Store site – but not yet started, is vital to the long term economic vitality of the area. That “critical mass” will come from the thousands of new Amazon employees who will fill not only the new apartments, but new restaurants, retailers and theaters that will be coming in, too.

 Amazon’s pause announcement last week came just days after a 12-page glossy mass mailing went out to thousands in the region, entitled “Capital Region Community Impact Report.”

Beginning with a statement from Amazon president and CEO Andy Jassy, the report spelled out “Amazon’s philanthropic commitments in the Capital Region,” including $32 million donated to 150+ local organizations in 2021, $990+ million committed to create and preserve  6,245 affordable housing units. 13,700 people supported by Amazon-funded affordable housing investments and 23,000 students who received food, clothing, school supplies, hygiene items and other urgent support through Amazon’s Right Now Needs Fund. 

According to the report, the commitments also included benefits to 75,000+ students across 343 schools who received computer science education through the Amazon Future Engineer program, to 166,000+ students who participated in the CodeVA program during the 2021-22 academic year, the 5.3 million free meals delivered to underserved families in partnership with Northern Virginia food banks, 10,000 meals purchased from local restaurants and donated to support Covid-19 first responders, $350,000 contributed to local community theaters and arts-focused non-profits, to 6,000 students who explored cloud computing solutions at the Wakefield H.S. Think Big in the 2021-22 academic year, the 200,000 children and families from underserved communities who received free access to the National Children’s Museum  through a $250,000 gift from Amazon, and the 16,700+ students served by Amazon’s support for local youth sports leagues.

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