Philly Is Trying Really, Really Hard to Keep Its Amazon HQ2 Bid a Secret

Officials are continuing to fight efforts to release the city’s Amazon HQ2 bid. | Photos via iStock.

Philadelphia-affiliated organizations have now spent more than $500,000 on the city’s bid to house Amazon’s second headquarters, according to Billy Penn.

What, exactly, the city is using to incentivize the e-commerce giant remains a secret: Officials are fighting just about every attempt to reveal what’s inside its proposal.

In December, we told you that in a collective public and private effort, local agencies had spent at least $245,000 on Philadelphia’s Amazon HQ2 bid, and that the full bid was never released to the public. Watchdog organizations and citizens worry that the city has dangled economic giveaways on taxpayers’ dimes (a strategy used by other localities competing for Amazon HQ2), and several of them have filed formal requests to the city (called Right-to-Know requests) in an attempt to force officials to disclose any financial enticements.

As of this past weekend, we now know that city-affiliated agencies have spent double the amount previously reported, and officials are continuing to fight attempts to release the contentious bid — in court.

Here’s what’s new:

The Money

Billy Penn reported this past weekend that Philadelphia’s Amazon HQ2 bid has cost affiliated organizations roughly $545,000.

The vast majority of those funds have come from the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation, the city’s public-private economic development corporation, which was founded in 1958.

The PIDC told Billy Penn it did not use taxpayer dollars to fund the Amazon HQ2 bid, and that 95 percent of the total money spent by the organization was “invested in research, data analysis, and development of assets that have already been used in other efforts and will continue to be of use attracting business and talent to Philadelphia well beyond the Amazon HQ2 process.”

As far as the other 5 percent, PIDC told the publication that $25,000 has gone toward legal fees and about $10,000 has gone toward meals, transportation, and other costs.

The Fight to Hide the Amazon HQ2 Bid

Since Philadelphia first submitted its Amazon HQ2 bid in October, officials have received 20 public records request, filed under the state’s Right-to-Know laws, seeking information about the proposal, per Billy Penn.

The city has previously said that revealing information about the bid could jeopardize its competitiveness in the deal — as well as its position in discussions with other organizations interested in doing business in Philadelphia. Officials have yet to release the full proposal: Even after the state’s Office of Open Records ordered the city to comply with public record requests this past spring, officials challenged those rulings in court.

Earlier this month, Philadelphia-based lawyer Megan Shannon filed an application for “extraordinary relief” with the state Supreme Court. Shannon is currently engaged in a Philadelphia Common Pleas Court case over the city’s refusal to release the full proposal.

Some background: The extraordinary relief provision, also referred to as the “King’s Bench” jurisdiction, was used to release Meek Mill from prison in April. As Philly.com reports, it allows the Supreme Court to intervene in cases that it deems of “immediate public importance.”

Shannon argues that by refusing to release the bid, the city is “denying its citizens the right to fully participate in the democratic process,” according to her application for relief.

The city has pointed out that any enticements offered to Amazon or other businesses, like promises of tax relief, would be subject to full city approval through City Council, or other boards or processes. But Shannon and others have argued that if Amazon were to select Philadelphia for its HQ2 location, the city could be bound or at least inclined to follow through on any enticements mentioned in its bid.

The Supreme Court is expected to take about 30 days to respond to Shannon’s petition.

Meanwhile, Common Pleas Court Judge Daniel J. Anders is expected to hear arguments in Shannon’s case against the city in November.

Amazon, which has vowed that its second headquarters will bring the winning locality 50,000 jobs at an average salary of $100,000, is expected to announce the winning city later this fall. Philadelphia made the list of top 20 finalists in January.

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