Arlington, VA

Amazon has unveiled plans for the PenPlace site in the second phase of its $2.5 billion HQ2 in Pentagon City, including a lush office building shaped like a double helix.

The company will build 2.8 million square feet of office space across three 22-story buildings, an amenity building with a community gathering space and daycare center, and three retail pavilions. The focal point will be The Helix: a 350-foot tall spiraling office building that recreates a climb in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

PenPlace will also have three acres of open space with a dog run and a 250-seat amphitheater, for public use.

Amazon will start filing designs and technical documents with Arlington County Tuesday morning, Amazon spokesperson Adam Sedó said during a call with journalists on Monday.

The tech giant aims to go before the Arlington County Board by the end of 2021, with construction starting in 2022 and ending in 2025, said John Schoettler, Amazon Vice President Global Real Estate and Facilities, during the call. He affirmed that so far, HQ2 remains on-schedule.

PenPlace is bounded by Army Navy Drive, S. Fern Street, 12th Street S. and S. Eads Street. Amazon owns the entire block after it bought a hotel on the site in September. The hotel is currently being torn down.

Schoettler said Arlington County has given Amazon more flexibility for this phase than for the first phase of development on the Metropolitan Park site, which includes two, 22-story concrete office buildings, retail and open space.

“The County Board told us for PenPlace, we really want you to push the envelope,” he said. “It really gave us a clean canvas to try new things.”

The Helix will be the highlight of the site and the tallest building, said Lead Architect Dale Alberda, who works for the international architecture firm NBBJ and helped to design The Spheres within the company’s Seattle headquarters. Throughout PenPlace, he said, the designs keep employees, who will number 25,000 across HQ2, close to nature and the community.

“Amazon has been challenging us to think about how people can connect to nature not just outside when the weather is good, but inside as well, so that it’s available all day, all the time,” Alberda said.

Schoettler said Amazon is also working hard to use sustainable energy. As part of its goal of LEED Platinum certifications — and to meet its pledge to be carbon neutral by 2040 — the buildings will be powered by a solar farm in southern Virginia.

The headquarters will feature one-quarter mile of new protected bike lanes and more than 950 onsite bike spaces as well as below-ground parking for about 2,100 cars and underground loading zones for trucks. There will also be a new bus platform on 12th Street S. near the main entrance to PenPlace.

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(Updated at 4:15 p.m.) On the second anniversary of Amazon choosing Arlington for its HQ2, Vice President of Public Policy for Amazon Brian Huseman is celebrating the project staying the course.

Huseman spoke with ARLnow about the goals of the celebration, Amazon’s local charitable contributions, the progress the company is making toward its hiring goals, construction deadlines, and the impact of the coronavirus on work.

“We want to convey that we’re on-track and on-target to hire the employees and we want to convey that we’re deeply invested in the community,” Huseman said. “We want to be a good neighbor and contribute to community organizations as much as we can during these challenging times.”

Despite the pandemic, Phase One of construction — on the Metropolitan Park development site in Pentagon City — continues on-schedule, Huseman said. In this phase, a block of warehouses were torn down and two Amazon towers totalling 2.1 million square feet are being built in its place.

Amazon is also funding the $14 million renovation of Metropolitan Park, adjacent to the first HQ2 phase.

Both Phase One and the park are expected to be completed in 2023, when Amazon expects to open its complex. Until then, it is leasing several temporary office spaces in Crystal City.

The second phase of HQ2 should be ready to present to the community and go through the county’s approval process starting in 2021, Huseman said. That phase is expected to include several million additional square feet at the PenPlace development site, one block down from the first phase along S. Eads Street. Amazon recently bought a hotel on the PenPlace block, with plans to tear it down.

Amazon reached the 1,000-employee mark earlier this year, hiring first in Human Resources, Recruiting and Finance. It has 500 open roles currently, Huseman said, and plans to continue its hiring spree for the foreseeable future.

“We’re on-track to meet 25,000 hires over next decade,” he said.

Amazon is sticking to that number even as it grows in Bellevue, Washington, which some have speculated is becoming the “real HQ2.” In September, Amazon announced it would be increasing the number of hires from 15,000 to 25,000 in the city, not far from the company’s Seattle headquarters.

Huseman dismissed the speculation that Bellevue would be supplanting Arlington.

“We have a presence in the Puget Sound region,” he said. “We are growing there, but the key here is that we promised 25,000 jobs and we’re on target for that. That’s what we’re going to deliver.”

And employees at HQ2 will be doing a “whole range of things” from web services to retail. The Vice President of Alexa International, Rob Pulciani, was one of the first executives to transfer to HQ2 with his team to build “the next generation of Alexa services,” Huseman said.

“Whatever Amazon does, you’ve got people at HQ2 doing that,” he said.

As a result of the pandemic, Amazon employees can work from home until June 2021. Most are opting to stay home but the offices are open with temperature checks, frequent disinfecting and social distancing in place. Candidates are interviewing remotely.

“Working from home is pretty effective and collaborative,” Huseman said. “We are able to communicate with video-conferencing and channels that we have with teams across the country.”

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The Arlington County Board has given its unanimous stamp of approval to plans for a revamped public park in the shadow of Amazon’s HQ2.

The Board approved a master plan and design guidelines for Pentagon City’s Metropolitan Park, which as currently configured is perhaps best known for being a large patch of grass where dogs from neighboring apartment buildings relieve themselves.

Amazon is picking up the $14 million renovation tab for the reimagined Metropolitan Park, designed — also at Amazon’s expense — by James Corner Field Operations, of New York City “High Line” fame.

The new park, expected to be completed in 2023, will feature lush meandering paths, a central green for gatherings and events, tables for outdoor dining, two 2,000 square foot dog parks, an edible garden, and public art, among other amenities.

James Corner Field Operations conducted its community outreach process for the park design virtually, as a result of the pandemic, with live video presentations and online surveys. The park design is a fusion of several presented concepts, with community feedback taken into account during each step of the way.

The online process won plaudits from at least one of the citizen-led county commissions involved.

“Several Commissioners noted that the virtual public engagement was thorough and well designed and allowed for much broader participation than would otherwise be the case for in-person meetings alone,” wrote Phil Klingelhofer, Chair of Arlington’s Urban Forestry Commission. “We would encourage the County to consider utilizing this virtual method of public engagement going forward even after the Covid-19 restrictions on public meetings have ceased as way to foster greater inclusivity and feedback.”

More on the park’s approval from an Arlington County press release, below.

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The design process for the revamped Metropolitan Park near Amazon’s future Pentagon City offices is nearing the finish line.

A final draft design for the park was presented last week, revealing a hybrid of the “Forest Walk” and “Social Gardens” concepts previously detailed by James Corner Field Operations, which designed New York City’s famous High Line. Amazon is funding the design work for the park, which is adjacent to its future HQ2.

The updated design is a “more social version” of the Forest Walk concept that was generally favored in the latest round of public feedback, designers said. It includes:

  • Meandering paths
  • A “hammock clearing” on the forest walk
  • The possibility of public art along the paths
  • An overlook
  • A central green for gatherings and events
  • A day care garden near HQ2
  • A “meadow lounge”
  • A play garden with playground equipment
  • A “community table” for dining amid nature
  • A cafe terrace
  • A 4,000 square foot dog park with separate areas for large and small dogs
  • An Amazon banana stand

The county and the designers are now gathering feedback on the synthesized design, before making some tweaks and creating a final design for consideration by the County Board in September.

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(Updated at 4:25 p.m.) The well-known design firm working to reimagine Metropolitan Park in Pentagon City has revealed some of its initial design concepts.

James Corner Field Operations, the firm behind New York City’s High Line, presented the designs in a virtual public meeting last week, alongside representatives from Amazon — which is footing the bill for the design work and park renovations — and Arlington’s Dept. of Parks and Recreation.

The current park, nestled in the middle of a group of apartment building and Amazon’s future HQ2, is largely flat grassy spaces, alongside trees, roads, and sidewalks. Its primary users are the apartment residents and their dogs; Amazon is planning to use part of the park for construction staging.

With Amazon moving in in a few years, however, it’s set for some big upgrades.

“As Amazon has said from the outset we want our Arlington HQ to become a destination that will draw people in, meet the needs of the neighborhood and our employees, and help build a sense of community,” said Brooke Oberwetter, Head of Community Affairs for HQ2. “I’m excited about the design concepts that are being put forward for consideration… with your feedback and ideas we can make sure this amazing space is an asset for the entire neighborhood for years to come.”

There were two overall design themes presented: “social gardens” and “the forest walk.” Some of the potential park features include:

  • A central lawn could host 500-1,000 people for events like movie nights
  • A children’s garden near HQ2 daycare center
  • A fitness garden with exercise opportunities
  • A game lawn with lawn bowling, bocce and badminton
  • A dog run for both large and small dogs
  • A hammock garden
  • A play garden
  • A community garden and orchard table for outdoor dining among fruit trees
  • A cafe terrace and culinary garden with outdoor dining and restaurants in front of one of the HQ2 buildings
  • A main promenade, that’s more of a meandering path in the “forest” design
  • Several pieces of public art, some of which might be along a shady and meandering art walk
  • A large shade trellis that can be used for festivals, markets and a banana stand

A survey conducted as part of the design process found that the top five park uses requested by residents were “sit and lounge,” “enjoy nature,” “stroll and walk,” “attend events,” and “dine and drink.”

The designs call for the removal of on-street parking spaces and “redundant” sidewalks from the roads that run through the park, and the addition of new trees and vegetation. With that and an expansion of the park into part of the HQ2 property, the new Metropolitan Park would have more than 100,000 square feet of space, according to the presentation.

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Amazon’s development arm wants to use a portion of the Pentagon City park next to its future HQ2 for construction of the new, permanent office campus.

Seattle-based Acorn Development is asking the Arlington County Board tonight for permission to use a sizable portion of Metropolitan Park — a patch of open space one block from Costco, used primarily by nearby apartment residents — as a staging ground for construction equipment.

“The proposed License Agreement between Acorn and the County will permit Acorn to use the County Easement Area for temporary off-site staging, parking and office trailers in conjunction with the construction,” a county staff report says. The company “will pay the County a License Fee of $10,000.00 per month… during the time the Use Permit is in effect.”

A number of trees are expected to be removed from the park as part of the project, for which Acorn will pay the county at least “$2,400 for every tree it destroys during the process,” according to the Washington Business Journal.

“Arlington would typically expect Amazon to replace each tree taken down at the park… during the staging process,” the Business Journal reported. “But since the trees likely can’t be replanted on site, Amazon would need to pay into the County’s Tree Canopy Fund — money used to maintain the county’s 755,000-tree stock.”

As it builds the 2.1 million square foot office-and-retail development along S. Eads Street, Amazon will also renovate Metropolitan Park, with the help of James Corner Field Operations, the noted designer of New York City’s High Line.

At its Saturday meeting, the County Board took up another Amazon proposal: to use the nearby PenPlace site, which eventually will be home to the second phase of the company’s permanent HQ2, as a temporary concrete batching plant.

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Morning Notes

Dorsey Steps Down from Transportation Board — “The Arlington County Board forced member Christian Dorsey to step down from a second transit board Saturday over a campaign donation from Metro’s largest union, and he apologized for misleading statements he made last month suggesting that he had already returned the money. Dorsey (D), who was reelected to the board in November, said he has sent back the $10,000 donation to the Amalgamated Transit Union and agreed to resign from the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission.” [Washington Post]

Thousands Attend Buttigieg Rally — Nearly 10,000 people attended Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg’s campaign rally at Washington-Liberty High School yesterday afternoon. [Twitter, TwitterThe Pete Channel]

Klobuchar Had High Profile Local Landlord — “Chuck Todd — who helped moderate Wednesday night’s Democratic debate — is likely more familiar with one candidate than any other. He was Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s landlord, sources exclusively told Page Six. Klobuchar and her husband, lawyer John Bessler, rented a 3-bedroom home owned by Todd in Arlington, Virginia, sources said.” [Page Six]

Firm Floats Less Parking for HQ2-Adjacent Park — “The green space adjacent to the first pair of Amazon.com Inc. HQ2 towers could be so much grander if it weren’t for some redundant on-street parking. That is what New York-based James Corner Field Operations, the urban design and landscape architecture firm Amazon has enlisted to mold Metropolitan Park’s open space, said Thursday night during the first step of the park master planning process… the site has roughly 50 on-street parking spaces, but there is a significant number, about 350, of underused below-ground spaces.” [Washington Business Journal]

Iwo Jima Restoration Is Complete — “This Sunday, Feb. 23, marks 75 years since brave Marines raised the American flag over Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima. The U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial, which depicts the historic moment, has been completely rehabilitated… The rehabilitation of the sculpture and surrounding parkland, the specially designed onsite exhibits and the new videos were made possible through a generous $5.37 million donation.” [Press Release]

Board Approves Child Care Funding, Park Contract — “The Arlington County Board today approved a contract with Crown Construction Service, Inc. to upgrade heavily-used Edison Park with new playgrounds and other amenities… [and] accepted a $200,000 donation to fund high-quality child care for low-income Arlington families, the first such donation to the Arlington Community Foundation’s  (ACF) Shared Prosperity initiative from a private corporation.” [Arlington County, Arlington County]

‘Ball Cap Bandit’ Sentenced — “An Arlington man was sentenced today to five years in prison for robbing two Falls Church pawn shops of nearly $800,000 in jewelry and watches. According to court documents, in July 2014, Budder Khan, 30, entered Route 50 Gold and Jewelry Exchange, forced the store’s employees to the ground using what appeared to be a real firearm, smashed the business’s glass display cases, and took jewelry and watches worth over $650,000.” [Press Release]

Flickr pool photo by Phil

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(Updated at noon) The Arlington County Board voted unanimously over the weekend to approve the first phase of Amazon’s permanent Pentagon City headquarters.

The vote on the 2.1 million square foot office-and-retail development along S. Eads Street was not met with the same degree of protests that greeted the vote on Amazon’s $23 million local incentive package in March, though union carpenters showed up en masse to protest what they say are labor violations at Amazon’s under-construction, temporary office space in Crystal City.

Amazon says it fired the contractor in question and pledged to ensure prevailing wages are paid to construction workers, while providing labor compliance oversight going forward, the Washington Post reported.

The first half of HQ2, which is situated around Pentagon City’s Metropolitan Park, will feature:

  • Two towers, up to 22 stories high, with room for around 12,500 employees
  • An underground parking garage with nearly 2,000 spaces, as well as more than 600 bicycle parking spaces
  • A daycare center open to Amazon employees and the community
  • Street level retail space with outdoor cafe seating and greenery
  • Two new street segments, including a new 14th Street S. and E. Elm Street

As ARLnow previously reported, Amazon has agreed to a host of community benefits, including:

  • $14 million for an expansion and redesign of Metropolitan Park, from the designer of NYC High Line
  • A record $20 million affordable housing contribution
  • Sidewalk and streetscape improvements, with new protected bike lanes, bus shelters and utility undergrounding
  • A 700-person meeting center that will be available to the county and other users after hours
  • Highly energy efficient design, with LEED Platinum certification and use of renewable energy for everything other than backup power and cooking

Empty warehouses and a surface parking lot will be demolished to make way for the 6.2 acre development. The new towers are expected to open in 2023, according to previous public presentations by Amazon.

A second phase of Amazon’s permanent HQ2 at the still-vacant PenPlace site along 12th Street, housing the other half of its expected 25,000 employees, will follow the Metropolitan Park phase. In total, Amazon expects to build 4.2 million square feet of new space.

Also on Saturday, the Arlington County Board “accepted a $200,000 federal grant to provide innovative workforce development services to 50 persons in Arlington and Alexandria who will be negatively impacted by increased development in the area,” according to a press release.

The county press release about the approval of Amazon’s Metropolitan Park site plan is below, after the jump.

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(Updated at 4:45 p.m.) Amazon plans to pay to completely revamp the “central park” next to its future HQ2, with a well-known designer at the helm.

The company and its architecture firm presented the latest plans for its permanent headquarters in Pentagon City to the Arlington Transportation Commission last night, ahead of an expected vote by the County Board on Dec. 14.

Amazon has offered to contribute a record $20 million to Arlington’s Affordable Housing Investment Fund, in exchange for being able to build the first half of its HQ2 bigger than otherwise would be permitted by zoning. The plans include two 22-story towers with a total of 2.15 million square feet of office and retail space.

Also of additional note is Amazon’s proposal for what is currently a modestly-sized and off-the-beaten-path park.

The second phase of HQ2 — the 500,000 square feet of temporary leased space in Crystal City is considered the first phase — would complete the “Metropolitan Park” development that includes four apartment buildings across from the Pentagon City Costco and along 12th Street S. Amazon is proposing to fund “a complete redevelopment of the park” in the middle of the buildings.

After expanding with an additional half acre of space from Amazon — not to mention a pair of new plazas totalling 20,000 square feet — the park will total more than 2 acres. But Amazon and Arlington County have grander plans for that space than the current park’s status as a defacto dog park for nearby apartment residents.

The county is expected to launch a master plan process for the park early next year, seeking community input on planned changes, according to Brian Earle, the lead architect of HQ2. Leading the design process will be James Corner Field Operations, the noted designer of New York City’s High Line.

Corner is “a real preeminent thinker about great urban space to help us realize the potential of that space,” Earle told the Transportation Commission.

Amazon will pay for the design, the public engagement process, the park construction and its maintenance, according to a draft site plan. The expected cost is $14 million, the Washington Business Journal reported.

Adjacent to the park and HQ2, meanwhile, portions of 14th Street and Elm Street are proposed to be flush with the sidewalk, making the streets, which will be open to traffic during business hours, more usable for events and other off-hours activities.

In front of HQ2, along S. Eads Street and extending to the Bartlett apartment building and Amazon-owned Whole Foods store, will be a “linear park.” The thin strip of parkland from 15th to 12th streets would include trees, string lights and cafe seating for the retail space at the base of Amazon’s towers.

The draft site plan describes “café seating associated with retail spaces, passive seating, public art, or programming” to “create open, flexible spaces for seating to encourage social activity” as part of the linear park.

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