Crystal City Gains in Amazon HQ2 Sweepstakes

Speculation mounts that the online retailer will tap the neighborhood across the Potomac from Washington, D.C. JBG Smith, the submarket’s primary office owner, would be poised to benefit.
Photo: Crystal City Business Improvement District/Michael Hong

Though Amazon continues to play its cards close to its vest about the selection of its second headquarters, evidence is mounting that the winner of the year-long national competition is Crystal City, Va., a Northern Virginia neighborhood located across from Washington, D.C., on the west bank of the Potomac River. 

Perhaps the most compelling evidence yet that Amazon is nearing a decision emerged over the weekend. On Saturday, the Washington Post reported that discussions between the retail giant and local leaders have progressed to granular details. The newspaper, which is owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, reported that the company is exploring which properties in Crystal City could be available and when. Amazon has said that it wants to launch initial occupancy next year for its second headquarters.

The much anticipated selection of the facility, widely referred to as HQ2, would be the high point of the most closely watched corporate headquarters decision in memory. Crystal City has emerged as the apparent frontrunner among the 20 cities on Amazon’s short list, which was winnowed from an initial group of 238 that entered the competition in October 2017. 

Crystal City’s largest owner of office space, JBG Smith, would be a prime beneficiary of the area’s possible selection by Amazon. Formerly known as Vornado/Charles E. Smith, the company served as the Washington, D.C. affiliate of Vornado Realty Trust until it was spun off from Vornado in July 2017. JBG Smith’s portfolio now encompasses some 20 million square feet of office space, including 8 million of Crystal City’s 10 million-square-foot office inventory.

Crystal-Clear Appeal

Rendering of JGB Smith’s 1750 Crystal City Drive (JGB Smith via Crystal City Business Improvement District)

Crystal City offers plenty to attract a corporation in the hunt for a location that can accommodate the  50,000 employees that Amazon would ultimately locate at HQ2. Part of Arlington County, Va., the neighborhood offers nearly 10 million square feet of office space, as well as an additional 400,000 square feet in the pipeline, according to the Crystal City Business Improvement District.

Two other statistics may also stand the submarket in good stead with Amazon executives. Seventeen hotels comprising  nearly 6,000 keys are located within 1 mile of South Eads Street and 20th Street in Crystal City. Some 18,000 residential units are located in the same radius, not counting some 1,600 under construction and 4,300 in the pipeline, the Crystal City BID estimates. Within Crystal City’s own boundaries, the inventory totals 4,600 hotel keys and 5,200 residential units. Also of note: the neighborhood is walking distance from Ronald Reagan National Airport.

Steps taken by JBG Smith this fall have further fueled speculation that Crystal City will win the nod. Last year, the REIT submitted plans to Arlington County to expand and repurpose the 240,000-square-foot office building at 1750 Crystal Drive to a residential property. In September, the developer returned to the county and submitted an updated application to retain the property as office space and renovate it. In addition, the Washington Post reported that the REIT took several of its office properties off the market, a step possibly undertaken in anticipation of Crystal City’s selection by Amazon.