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Amazon HQ2 in Atlanta: Two groups rise as suitors versus haters

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The nationwide contest to earn the tech giant's next home base is heating up—and two Atlanta factions are conflicted

A graphic showing the finalist cities for amazon HQ2.
Atlanta’s still on the shortlist, but for how long?

The epic contest among North American cities vying to become the second home of tech monolith Amazon is heating up, and Atlanta is clinging to a spot on the shortlist.

Plenty of Atlantans are still fired up at the possibility that some 50,000 high-paying jobs could come to the city courtesy of Amazon, and that around $5 billion in (eventual) real estate investment could help further develop of the downtown area and beyond.

Advocates also say a local Amazon HQ would boost education funding and help expand metro Atlanta’s transit systems.

Georgia politicos are debating exactly how much they should incentivize an Amazon move-in with tax breaks and free utilities. Candidates for Georgia governor have said they want to ensure residents reap as many benefits—if not more—than Amazon, if it comes to town.

But there’s a swelling contingent wary of the impact the daunting, mammoth corporation could have on Atlanta’s ever-shifting economic and cultural landscape.

Enter PrimeUp ATL and Atlanta Against Amazon.

These are polar opposite groups in the debate about whether Atlanta really wants—or needs—the sequel to the company’s Seattle home base.

A screen-shot of the pro-HQ2 website.
PrimeUp ATL

“While some commentators have forecast that Amazon’s second headquarters could be a strain on the winning city’s infrastructure, the benefits are significant,” says PrimeUp ATL’s web page.

PrimeUp’s founder, Alex Membrillo, who’s also the CEO of Cardinal Digital Marketing, told Curbed Atlanta he’s already shelled out more than $20,000 of his own cash to lobby for an Atlanta-based HQ2, using billboards and other ads.

Membrillo also said he plans to pay for planes to fly banners around Seattle, an effort to snare Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’s attention and show him and his employees that Atlanta would be not just the most beneficial home for the company, but also the coolest place to set up shop.

He wants to tease “Seattle Amazonians” with Coca-Cola, King of Pops, and Chick-Fil-A.

“I also want them to say, ‘What is this crazy shit?,’ with all these crazy banners with Migos references and all that stuff,” he said. “And they’d tell their management team that all these people really want Amazon to move to Atlanta; it’s not just the politicians and the businesspeople pitching to Amazon.”

And then there’s the local counterpoint to that thinking.

Atlanta Against Amazon, on the other hand—obviously—wants people to fear Amazon’s allegedly evil motives. The group, which is rumored to have a few disgruntled Amazon employees on board, warns of poor working conditions, artificial intelligence takeovers, and creepy surveillance programs.

The organization has also said to watch out for robots who could snag jobs the company has promised to mere Homo sapiens. “THE ROBOTS ARE COMING; STOP THEM BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE,” reads one street poster that’s been plastered all around Atlanta.

After some initial correspondences recently, a rep with Atlanta Against Amazon stopped responding to Curbed Atlanta’s inquiries, so an interview wasn’t granted.

Even Membrillo agrees with the anti-Amazon group that Bezos has a knack for monopolizing the industries he dabbles in.

Said Atlanta Against Amazon’s website: “We’ve already seen how Amazon’s original platform as an online bookseller forced thousands of independent bookstores to close down.”

“The more successful Amazon is, the more we will see farmer’s markets, neighborhood hardware stores, and clothing boutiques boarded up,” the page’s “callout” continued.

It can be tough to compete with Amazon, the group asserts, since the company uses predictive data analyses to tantalize its customers.

A picture of the poster Atlanta Against Amazon has posted around town.
You might’ve seen a few of these plastered on light poles in the city.

As for that mass surveillance worry, Membrillo said, “They talk about Amazon being here to spy on us, and it’s like, kind of. But I’m okay with it because they’re making my buying easier; they’re just consistently predicting the shit I want. And they’re getting it to my place in like two hours.”

Atlanta Against Amazon also cautions that new HQ development has the potential to displace people—even people who work for, or could work for, the company.

Dan Immergluck, a professor with Georgia State University’s Urban Studies Institute, penned in Atlanta magazine that the city needs to seriously beef up its affordable housing stock before it can consider accommodating HQ2.

Membrillo said he’s on board with Immergluck’s suggestion to install inclusionary housing initiatives.

“We have a lot of lessons to learn from Seattle,” he said. “That [housing crunch] was not part of the plan around there, and affordable housing was not made a focal point, and now you’ve got a lot of issues with people who work at Amazon having trouble being able to live within 10 miles of it.

“Here in Atlanta,” he continued, “we would have four or five years before these buildings would be built, if [Amazon] moved down here. We have to make sure affordable housing is in place—and plenty of it. And not just in The Gulch, where [HQ2] would probably go, but also along the Beltline and all of our big development districts.”

PrimeUp ATL has started a petition advocating for a move to Atlanta, and Curbed Atlanta has created a poll to gauge how much readers care about all this hullabaloo.