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Here’s what Amazon has to do to get $23 million from Arlington County

Will Amazon's HQ2 be a good neighbor or a nightmare? Editor's note: An earlier version of this video contained outdated population and incentive figures. (Video: Daron Taylor/The Washington Post, Photo: Daron Taylor/The Washington Post)

In exchange for giving Amazon about $23 million in incentives, activists wanted Arlington County to require the retail giant to pay union-level construction wages, donate to affordable housing funds or end its partnership with federal immigration authorities.

But when the proposed incentive agreement was released Tuesday, it primarily said Amazon must fill a certain amount of office space in its Crystal City headquarters to receive the staggered payouts over the next 15 years.

“What does Amazon have to do to get $23 million from Arlington? Just show up!” said a tweet posted by the anti-Amazon account @hqpoo.

Helen Li, 25, who helps run the account, said Arlington is “protecting Amazon, and not protecting the people who don’t speak English, the poor and working-class people here.”

Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey (D) said the county can still put pressure on Amazon to provide benefits to working-class and poor residents and never intended to include those “asks” in the narrowly written agreement, which the County Board will discuss and put to a vote on March 16.

Although Virginia limits what local governments can require of businesses and developers, Dorsey said a voluntary written memo could address advocates’ concerns. “Conversations about things we think are appropriate . . . will be ongoing,” he said.

But Roshan Abraham, one of the organizers of the “For Us, Not Amazon” coalition, said the incentives agreement should have been “one of our biggest points of leverage.”

“There is nothing that they have to do,” he said. “It’s a direct subsidy for them to move in.”

Amazon seeks ‘good neighbor’ image but opponents are not impressed

After announcing in November that it would build two East Coast headquarters, each eventually housing 25,000 employees, Amazon withdrew last month from its planned New York City site in the face of opposition from activists and some elected officials. (Amazon founder and chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

Virginia advocates for the poor and working class are hoping to pressure Arlington to extract concessions from Amazon as part of their negotiations. Officials say the next opportunity could be when the company requests zoning and other permissions for the campus it plans to build.

The county incentives are in addition to $750 million in state incentives already approved by the Virginia General Assembly, which are based on the number of employees hired at salaries that must average $150,000 per year.

Arlington’s payments would come from an expected increase in taxes on stays in hotels, motels and other lodgings. Fifteen percent of any increase would go to Amazon, the agreement says, if the company meets office space targets.

County Manager Mark Schwartz said the remaining increased revenue would be used for schools, housing and transportation. The county expects $172 million in new net revenue during Amazon’s first 12 years and $315 million in net new revenue over 16 years, his statement said.

“The reward of the growth for the transient occupancy tax is shared by the community, but the risk is entirely borne by Amazon,” Dorsey said.

The agreement says Amazon needs to occupy 64,000 square feet of office space by July 31, 2020, to qualify for 15 percent of any increase in the annual lodging tax from the previous fiscal year. The required amount of space increases to 252,800 square feet by July 31, 2021, and to 5.576 million square feet by July 31, 2034, the last year of incentive payments.

As part of the agreement, the famously private Amazon — which required strict confidentiality from local and state governments as it sought to land the company’s second headquarters — must acknowledge that much of the information it provides to the county and state is subject to the state’s Freedom of Information Act statute. That information includes square-footage reports, the number of employees hired in Arlington, incentives paid, and composite tax and revenue data.

The agreement gives Amazon two days after a public-records request “to take such steps as it deems appropriate with regard to the required disclosure of records and (b) disclose only such records as are subject to mandatory disclosure under VaFOIA or other applicable law or regulation.”

Virginia’s FOIA law includes more than 100 exceptions and is not considered one of the stronger ones in the country.

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