How Will Amazon Affect Georgetown?

The (widely expected) news that Amazon picked Crystal City for (half) its second headquarters finally came out this week. This being an extremely niche publication, GM immediately started thinking about the Georgetown angle. And here are some of his wild speculations of how the change will affect our neighborhood:

More Demand? Ehhh..

One of the primary concerns expressed about the possibility of Amazon moving in to any city is how it would drive up housing demand, and thus prices. And like many successful American cities in 2018, DC is already facing a housing affordability crisis. Even with just one half of the HQ2 coming (does that make it HQ1? HQ1.5?) that’s still 25,000 new relatively highly paid employees.

But actually, that’s not quite right. Many if not most of the new jobs will go to people already here. Or people who would otherwise be coming. Put it this way: there are 3.3 million non-farm employees working in the DC area right now. During the year prior to July 2018, there were 77,100 new jobs added. So yes, 25,00 new jobs is not insignificant. But it is not nearly as significant as the hype makes it out to be.

Granted, these will be higher paying jobs than average, and they will be concentrated in a relatively compact area. But the impact will be spread out over both time (it will take a while for Amazon to actually bring all the jobs here) and space (the jobs will be located from Crystal City all the way down to Alexandria, and the employees will likely live all over the place).

Moreover, while these will be relatively high paying jobs, most will not be salaries that will put much of a dent on a neighborhood full of seven and eight-figure house prices.

So will demand and prices for homes increase in Georgetown over the next tens years? Of course they will. But they would anyway. How much will be attributable to Amazon will unlikely to be significant, and even less likely to be detectable.

Transportation

Ok, but how will having 25,000 new jobs in a neighborhood not too far away impact how Georgetowners get around? It could play out several different ways.

One concern would be if a large number of Amazon workers settle in upper northwest DC. People from there who are working in northern Virginia often choose to drive via the Key Bridge. While this would be a “reverse” commute, it would nonetheless be adding volume to an already congested artery. However you could possibly take some hope from the following: Crystal City is largely a ghost town right now because it lost 13,000+ workers earlier this decade in connection with BRAC. So adding 25,000 back won’t be so far away from historical levels.

Moreover, it seems likely that a great number of Amazon employees will either live in Virginia (if they have families) or downtown DC (if they’re single).

But what about possible gains? There are at least two.

The first is the gondola. If DC wants to capture as many Amazon employees as it can, it’s got to make getting to Crystal City as easy as possible. And one of the strongest selling points of the gondola is that it essentially brings the Rosslyn Metro Station practically to the doorstep of Georgetown. Crystal City is just a short four stops away on the Blue Line.

And speaking of the Blue Line, by adding so many new workers to this line, Amazon may finally push the region towards the long discussed separated Blue Line:

The Metro tunnel between Rosslyn and Foggy Bottom is already at capacity. And it will only get worse as the Silver Line doubles with phases two. To address this congestion, Metro has long planned a new Blue Line tunnel under the river and across downtown DC. This would include one, and possibly two, Georgetown stations.

The cost of such a project has always been so high that Metro’s plans were really more in the way of dreams. But Amazon may shift the needle. Not all the way to the green, but in that direction.

Again, this is all just idle speculation. How do you think Amazon will impact Georgetown?

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