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Amazon touts HQ2 construction progress as Bezos makes big donation to local nonprofit

(Updated at 4:30 p.m.) With 800 workers completing one floor every 10 days, the first two buildings of Amazon’s HQ2 are set to reach their full height in April.

Construction began on the 2.1 million-square foot Met Park campus — the first phase of the massive Pentagon City project — in January 2020 and is still on-track to be completed in 2023, Amazon officials said during a hard hat tour today.

Separately, shortly after the tour ended, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ Day 1 Families Fund announced a $2.5 million grant to longtime Arlington nonprofit Doorways, intended to “end homelessness for families in the Arlington area.”

Donations to local nonprofits was also a theme of the remarks from Amazon officials to the gathered crowd of media members and elected officials, including outgoing Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and Arlington County Board Chair Matt de Ferranti. They spoke of the company’s community involvement, its pace of hiring workers for HQ2, and construction progress.

“Three years ago, we made a commitment to create 25,000 and an investment of more than $2.5 billion,” said Brian Huseman, Amazon’s Vice President of Public Policy. “I’m excited to announce to you today that we are on track for that. As of today, we have more than 3,500 Amazon employees working at HQ2 and more than 2,500 open roles, which is double where we were a year ago today. HQ2 is on track and it’s here.”

Amazon now intends to fulfill its goal of 25,000 jobs by 2028.

Once an abandoned warehouse, the site of Met Park will eventually feature two solar-powered, 22-story office buildings and more than 50,000 square feet of retail space, including a childcare, as well as a 2-acre public park and a 700-person meeting center free for the community to use.

“Despite the challenges brought on by the pandemic, I’m truly proud to share that we’ve hit all our critical milestones and we’ve kept the project on schedule while keeping the workers safe as well as our community,” said Jeff King, the vice president of construction for Clark Construction. “Just last month, we surpassed the halfway mark with our concrete operations. We set the timber roof over the event center… Our exterior façade commenced in September. And in the last couple weeks, we started revitalizing Metropolitan Park.”

So far, workers have reached level 15 on the pair of office buildings and are getting ready to frame level 16, he said. Once completed, the buildings’ rooftops will feature a café terrace, a dog run terrace and an urban farm terrace.

A timber roof was recently installed over the event center, which mostly be available for events such as conferences, Amazon’s Senior Manager of External Affairs Patrick Phillippi said. The terms of shared use have yet to be ironed out.

Officials highlighted the sustainability of the construction project as well, from using concrete that sequesters recycled carbon to diverting 84% of all construction materials from landfills.

Over the last three years, Amazon has donated $34 million to local nonprofits such as La Cocina VA, Arlington Food Assistance Center and Bridges to Independence, and schools, such as the “Think Big Space” innovation lab under construction at Wakefield High School.

Huseman said Amazon has donated more than $500 million in low-rate loans and grants to preserve 2,300 affordable homes in the HQ2 region, with more coming. As part of the Met Park development, Amazon is donating more than $20 million to Arlington County to fund the creation and preservation of committed affordable housing units, primarily through the development of additional units at the nearby Crystal House apartment complex.

Separate from these donations, local nonprofit Doorways — which works to lift locals out of homelessness and support victims of domestic violence — announced today that it also received an Amazon-related windfall: $2.5 million from Bezos’ families fund grant, which is doling out $96.2 million to 32 nonprofits across the country.

“Doorways is thrilled to be one of 32 organizations receiving a grant from the Bezos Day 1 Families Fund this year,” said Doorways spokeswoman Linley Beckbridge. “This funding will help us continue to ensure that no family in Arlington goes without safe shelter.”

“We are especially committed to continuing our efforts to remove barriers that prevent historically marginalized communities of color, immigrants and people with disabilities from accessing services and getting housed quickly,” said Doorways CEO Diana Ortiz, in a statement. “By increasing our capacity and adding more doorways into housing and our comprehensive wraparound services, our youngest clients and their parents will overcome the trauma of family homelessness and gender-based violence.”

During the tour, County Board Vice-Chair Katie Cristol and Gov. Ralph Northam told ARLnow that the state and county’s relationship with Amazon is the key to ensuring the company makes good on its promises and pledges down the road.

“I do think a lot of this is facilitated by relationships. I know that sounds squishy when you’re talking about accountability, but Amazon has formed a relationship with every large-scale nonprofit and many small ones,” Cristol said. “Civic associations know where to find them, [and so do] our commissioners. They have made good on hiring people who are well-known to the county.”

Northam concurred.

“Even when we’re talking to businesses that want to come to Virginia, it’s about starting and building on that relationship,” he said. “One of the most important things in building and continuing that relationship… with a company like Amazon is communication. We’ll continue to have dialogue and say, ‘How are we doing? Are there other things we need? Do we need to make adjustments? They’ve been very good about doing that so far, and I expect that good relationship will continue.”

As work continues on the first phase of HQ2, planning is well underway on the second, which is set to feature the distinctive “Helix” building. County Board consideration of the second phase, also located along S. Eads Street but on the other side of 12th Street S., is expected in early-to-mid 2022.

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