Mayor Bill Peduto and County Executive Rich Fitzgerald at Pittsburgh's Amazon bid release, Nov. 15, 2018.

In the end, only Jeff Bezos could make them do it.

On Thursday morning, Mayor Bill Peduto, County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and Allegheny Conference CEO Stefani Pashman held a press conference announcing the public release of the city’s stymied bid for Amazon’s second headquarters.

Despite mounting pressure from the media, community groups and even the courts, city and county officials had been refusing to release the details of the bid since the process started in late 2017. The unredacted, 77-page report is now available (read it here) after a long battle for access to it that raised questions about transparency and accountability in Pittsburgh politics.

Here are some key takeaways from the report:

  • The overall value of the financial incentives offered to Amazon was about $4 billion over the next 25 years, notably higher than the winning bids.
  • All told, Pittsburgh was ready to offer just over $4 billion in financial incentives to Amazon. Of that, $637 million would have gone to initial support toward the cost of land and construction of the headquarters, including PennDOT grants for improving transport in the immediate area and diverted parking taxes. $1.3 billion would have been a performance-based grant from the state, which would pay off at intervals over 25 years depending on how many jobs the company creates. The last $2.1 billion would have included investments in critical infrastructure such as clean water, better transit, affordable housing and pre-K/K-12 education, in a fund partly administered by Allegheny County, City of Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh Public Schools.
  • The state was ready to offer a variety of real estate for free. While the report provided specific details on several vacant or developing tracts of land such as Hazelwood Green and the former Civic Arena site in the Lower Hill, the bid also included dozens of potential sites stretching out into the greater Pittsburgh region, such as McKeesport, Moon Township and Monroeville.
  • Carnegie Mellon University would have opened a new on-campus facility dedicated to research in collaboration with Amazon’s top engineers. This university-corporate partnership would serve as a pipeline for local tech talent to the proposed corporate campus.

Both the report and the press conference emphasized that all of these decisions would eventually have had to be approved by the city and county councils, as well as by relevant authorities like the school board and state legislature — all of which, they said, would have been done with full transparency and public input.

City and county leaders have argued that releasing the details of the bid earlier would have left Pittsburgh at a competitive disadvantage in the contest for HQ2. This reasoning had been soundly rejected by the courts.

In response to a request from a consortium of local media outlets, the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records ordered the bid to be released in February of this year. A variety of activist and civil rights groups filed briefs in support, including the Thomas Merton Center, Pittsburghers for Public Transit and The American Civil Liberties Union.

The decision was promptly appealed by city and county officials. In late October, the Allegheny Court of Common Pleas once again ordered the bid to be released.

“This case is not about whether Amazon’s locating its second headquarters in this region would provide an economic boost,” wrote Common Pleas Senior Judge W. Terrence O’Brien. “Nor is it relevant, as argued by [regional leaders], that public disclosure of the records at issue would ‘sabotage [Pittsburgh’s] opportunity to compete with’ other regions of the United States for the headquarters.”

A further appeal was still in process when Amazon made its announcement earlier this week that their new locations would be in New York and the Washington, D.C. area.

Speaking to NEXTpittsburgh, Vic Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, called the entire process “a real shame.”

While he acknowledged that development projects on the massive scale of HQ2 are not a common policy problem, he says the lack of transparency seems “disappointing in what it reveals about our public officials.”

Bill O'Toole was a full-time reporter for NEXTpittsburgh until October, 2019. He previously reported in Myanmar.