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With Amazon courting Atlanta, mayor touts “Gulch” project

ATLANTA — With expected to soon name its site for a second headquarters, Atlanta’s mayor said a colossal development planned for downtown represents a once-in-a-lifetime shot to transform the city.

Amazon launched a high-stakes municipal beauty pageant in January by narrowing its list of potential locations to 20 finalists, including Atlanta. The company has said it expects to declare the winner of the headquarters and its roughly 50,000 jobs by year’s end.

Atlanta city council members were given a few more details Tuesday about the potential impact of developing an underused site known as “The Gulch” that could meet Amazon’s search criteria.

“We are talking about thousands of jobs, potentially, that would come into this area and also the elephant in the room is that very big company that is looking at the city as a place to relocate their headquarters,” Mayor Keisha Lance-Bottoms said at Tuesday’s city council meeting.

Planning documents made public earlier this year revealed that Atlanta’s project could include 18 buildings with 9.3 million square feet (87 million square meters) of office space — more than three times the space in the Empire State Building.

Amazon has said it needs up to 8 million square feet (743,000 square meters) of office space for a second headquarters outside Seattle.

Atlanta is working with Los Angeles-based development firm CIM Group on the plans. Details of exactly how the project would be financed have yet to be worked out, city officials said Tuesday.

The mayor on Tuesday sought to assure council members that affordable housing is a top priority in the city’s economic development negotiations, and that current residents will not be forced out if new development brings soaring rents and home prices.

“We are losing diversity in this city based upon the economics of our communities,” the mayor said.

“So as we are talking to companies such as Amazon — as we’re talking to any number of companies who are looking to find a home in Atlanta — part of that conversation is, if it’s a part of that conversation, is what it means for people to be able to afford to remain in this city.”

The opportunity presented by “The Gulch,” she said, “is an opportunity for us to show the entire country how you get affordable housing right, and how you balance economic development with the needs of our communities.”

“The Gulch” now includes parking lots, abandoned buildings, weedy lots and railroad tracks surrounded by Mercedes-Benz Stadium, CNN Center and government towers.

Hollywood crews have used it to film scenes from the 2016 movie “Captain America: Civil War.” The AMC TV show “The Walking Dead” filmed from a rooftop overlooking The Gulch during the show’s first season.

“This is yet another opportunity to transform an area that quite frankly has been an eyesore in our city for generations,” she added. “And I think if we miss this opportunity, it will be an opportunity that will be missed for many, many years to come.”

But without the support of the city council, whose members represent the will of the people, “this deal will absolutely go nowhere,” Bottoms said.

The other finalists in Amazon’s headquarters search are Boston; Austin, Texas; Chicago; Columbus, Ohio; Dallas; Denver; Indianapolis; Los Angeles; Miami; Montgomery County, Maryland; Nashville, Tennessee; Newark, New Jersey; New York City; northern Virginia; Philadelphia; Pittsburgh; Raleigh, North Carolina; Toronto and Washington, D.C.

Jeff Martin, The Associated Press

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