“You don’t have a chance to win the game unless you’re in the game… We’re in the game now, and we’d like to be considered.”
By Brian Fraga
Fall River — A 40minute drive from Fall River to Boston? Forty-five minutes to Logan International Airport? The Fall River Redevelopment Authority’s proposal to Amazon that the retail giant should consider building its second North American headquarters in the SouthCoast/Riverfront Park also mentions that SouthCoast Commuter Rail is expected to service Fall River and Freetown by 2022. Those selling points may sound a tad optimistic — some would say they require rose-colored glasses — but every community vying for Amazon’s “HQ2” is putting its best foot forward, said Kenneth Fiola Jr., the executive vice president of the Bristol County EDC. “There are going to be a couple of things that we’re going to take some license on, but others are doing that too,” said Fiola, adding that the thousands of cities across the country that replied to Amazon’s recent request for proposal will inevitably slant the facts in their favor. “We’re not going to say it’s a hour and a half drive to Boston during rush hour,” Fiola said. The Fall River Redevelopment Authority’s proposal was released this week in conjunction with Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration unveiling Massachusetts’ statewide submission for the Bay State to host HQ2. The state’s proposal touts Massachusetts’ global connections, its regional strengths and geographic communities. The proposal identifies at least 20 potential sites for the Amazon facility in Massachusetts, including eight locations alone in and around Boston.
In SouthCoast, New Bedford and Taunton also submitted direct proposals to Amazon. The state’s submission sells New Bedford as “America’s most valuable commercial fishing port with a vibrant downtown” and Taunton as “one of the oldest cities in the country and the seat of Bristol County.”
The state document notes that Fall River “is home to the largest Amazon facility in Massachusetts.”
The fact that the SouthCoast/Riverfront Park — which straddles the border of Fall River and Freetown — already hosts Amazon’s 1 million-square-foot warehouse is a plus in Fall River’s favor, said Fiola, who acted as the Fall River Redevelopment Authority’s agent. Fiola argued that the Fall River bid meets many of the criteria in Amazon’s public request for proposal. Fiola said “it’s hard to quantify” the odds that Fall River will one day host HQ2, given all the cities across the country that were expected to respond to Amazon’s request.
“We have a strong proposal, but obviously there are going to be more and other types of proposals that are going be as equally strong,” Fiola said. “But you don’t have a chance to win the game unless you’re in the game… We’re in the game now, and we’d like to be considered.”
To make its case, the Fall River Redevelopment Authority presents an “extremely” business-friendly city that is willing to give tax breaks to business ventures. The proposal notes that the potential site in Fall River and Freetown is 45 miles south of Boston and 15 miles east of Providence “with direct highway access.”
The Fall River proposal’s assertions of a 45-minute drive to Logan Airport and the expected arrival of commuter rail are in keeping with Amazon’s description of the ideal site, which include a 45-minute drive to an international airport and access to mass transit.
The proposal also paints a picture of Fall River where “family leisure and recreational activities are still very much a part of everyday life.” Visitors and residents alike, the proposal says, “delight in Fall River’s Old World charm, with its many festivals, shops and boutiques, and a colorful, bustling waterfront.” It is said that visitors stop by the Marine Museum “for a flavor of the city’s romantic past.”
In addition, the proposal says Fall River’s “lovely parks and unique museums offer a number of attractions and recreational opportunities,” such as the Fall River Carousel at Battleship Cove, which is described as a “striking Victorian pavilion” and a “fully restored, handcarved masterpiece.”
The proposal notes that Fall River has fewer violent crimes than much larger cities like Boston, Springfield and Providence. And for the history buffs at Amazon, the document lets them know that they would enjoy the Lizzie Borden exhibit at the Fall River Historical Society, which the proposal is careful to note is “not far from the scene of the actual murders.”
Testimonial letters from the Freetown Board of Selectmen, Bristol Community College, Bristol County EDC and the Bristol County Chamber of Commerce are attached to the proposal, but none from the City of Fall River. Fiola’s office emailed the mayor’s office last week to request a letter of support, but Fiola said he never heard back from the administration.
Mayor Jasiel Correia said the city encouraged the Fall River Redevelopment Authority to apply to Amazon, and added that he expected Fiola to sit down with the administration before submitting the proposal. Correia said he did not receive a copy of the proposal until Friday morning.
“How can I sign a letter of support for a proposal when I haven’t seen it?” Correia said, adding however that he thinks Fall River would be a good location for Amazon’s new headquarters. Correia said his administration will be working with state leaders to let them know that Fall River should be taken seriously in the running.