Amtrak postpones search for 30th Street developer amid Amazon HQ pursuit

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Artist rendering of proposed 30th Street Station Plaza, as seen from above corner of 29th and Market Streets looking northwest.

Amtrak has postponed its search for a developer to remake the area around 30th Street Station amid signals that city officials intend to pitch an adjacent swath of University City to Amazon as a potential site for the e-commerce giant’s planned second headquarters campus.

The transit agency’s lead contract administrator, Carole Owens, said Monday in an email to potential development partners who had registered for an Oct. 11 tour of the station area that the search would be delayed “until such time a decision on the Amazon headquarters has been made.”

The postponement, coming less than three weeks before Amazon’s deadline for headquarters proposals, shows that Amtrak is taking seriously Philadelphia’s odds of snagging the Seattle company’s new campus, said Dean D. Bellas, president of Alexandria, Va.-based real-estate and planning consultancy Urban Analytics.

“This could potentially be an economic boom for Amtrak, so it would be worth their while to step back for a moment,” said Ballas, author of a recent report on transit-linked development projects for the Urban Land Institute.

The move pauses Amtrak’s efforts to secure a master developer for the first phases of a decades-long, $6.5 billion area vision known as the 30th Street Station District Plan, which could eventually include capping a nearby rail yard to accommodate additional development.

Amtrak issued a “request for qualifications” in late August for the plan’s first phases, which involve reconfiguring the public plaza around the rail station for easier pedestrian access, upgrading the station building’s interior, and developing a now-vacant 32,500-square foot tract of land known as Parcel 1 just to the building’s west.

Amtrak’s project site borders 14 acres of vacant and underutilized property that Brandywine Realty Trust has plans to develop into a high-rise district of offices, homes and shops known as Schuylkill Yards, which city official are expected to propose to Amazon as one possible site for its second headquarters.

Philadelphia is also expected to pitch Amazon on the uCity Square development to the west of Schuylkill Yards and the Navy Yard office-and-industrial district in South Philadelphia. All three sites, the thinking goes, could accommodate the 50,000 full-time workers Amazon plans to employ within millions of square feet of new office space.

Philadelphia Commerce Director Harold Epps, who late last week joined a fact-finding delegation to Seattle aimed at refining the city’s proposal to Amazon, said Monday that the city is still deciding which sites to propose most forcefully to the company.

Amtrak apparently expects Amazon to have decided whether Philadelphia will have made its short list by early 2018, which is when its contracts chief Owens said in her email that it plans to resume its 30th Street Station-area developer search.

“While Philadelphia is still determining the best site to present to Amazon, Amtrak feels it best to suspend its solicitation,” Amtrak spokeswoman Chelsea Kopta said in a statement.

Epps said government officials had been informed by Amtrak that it planned to postpone its developer search, but were not involved in the decision.

“We think it allows them to stay more flexible about the possibilities,” he said.