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'We are committed to HQ2': Amazon says pandemic hasn't changed plans for Va. headquarters

{p}This is an Amazon rendering of what the HQ2 towers will look like when complete, located on South Eads Street in Pentagon City.{/p}(COURTESY: AMAZON){ }

This is an Amazon rendering of what the HQ2 towers will look like when complete, located on South Eads Street in Pentagon City.

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On Monday afternoon, Amazon will hold a ribbon-cutting at one of its newly renovated HQ2 office buildings in Crystal City. The company will also host a socially distant tour of the space with Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey, and a few other state officials.

The event was timed to coincide with the second anniversary of Amazon's HQ2 announcement. It was November 13, 2018, when the company revealed it would build its second headquarters in Arlington.

"We could not be happier to have selected Arlington," said Brian Huseman, Amazon's Vice President of Public Policy. "It's got a great wealth of talent, it's a terrific place to live, it's got good transportation infrastructure and a business-friendly environment."

Huseman and his team led the search for Amazon's HQ2 location.

Ahead of Monday's ribbon-cutting, ABC7 spoke to Huseman about HQ2 progress, challenges, and the company's future in Arlington.

"I'm most excited about continuing to hire people. We've got about a thousand people so far, 500 open roles, and we're going to continue to hire several thousand people each year," said Huseman.

The company has said it will hire a total of 25,000 HQ2 employees here over the next decade.

The building where Monday's ribbon cutting will take place is located at 1770 Crystal Drive. It's one of several office spaces the company has leased in Crystal City, and this particular building has been gutted and completely renovated since Amazon signed the lease.

RELATED: It's been exactly 2 years since Amazon announced HQ2 would be built in Arlington

That's in addition to Amazon's first phase of ground-up construction, two massive HQ2 towers that are currently being built on South Eads Street in Pentagon City.

"Our new towers are going to be open in 2023," said Huseman.

Yet even as Amazon shows off its new office space at 1770 Crystal Drive, the building is mostly empty due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

"Some employees are working from the offices, but most of our employees are working from home or may come in for particular instances if it's more effective or more efficient for them to do so," said Huseman.

In fact, he said most of the 1,000 HQ2 employees hired thus far are currently working from home.

7 On Your Side wanted to know how that trend might impact the company's second headquarters and future plans for HQ2.

"Definitely the pandemic has affected everyone; our company, our employees, and our community. We are allowing our employees to work from home if they choose to do so until the middle of next year, but the offices are open if it's more effective to come in. We also switched all of our interviews to virtual interviews, so we and our candidates have had to adjust to that," said Huseman. "But our plans for HQ2, for our hirings, for our buildings, that remains on track."

The pair of 22-story HQ2 towers now under construction in Pentagon City include more than 2 million square feet of office space.

"If so many people are working from home right now and that trend might continue in the future, is there still a need for HQ2 and for these two massive office towers in Arlington?," asked ABC7's Heather Graf.

Huseman said the company is thinking long-term.

"Amazon is committed to Arlington, Amazon is committed to HQ2 and hiring our 25,000 employees. We are really excited to call Arlington home and we think that our second headquarters is going to be a great part of Arlington's future," he said. "We are committed to HQ2."

Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey said she has confidence in the company's commitment to Arlington.

"It's not a concern I have right now," she said. "If Amazon was one of those companies that has been suffering, for instance, our hotel industry has been suffering -- but Amazon is one of the few places that's taking off. They are doing well with this pandemic, so no that's not a concern," said Garvey. "I know there are a lot of criticisms about Amazon, and I see those. But right now here in Arlington they are living up to their promises. They are being a member of the community, they are being supportive. And it's been overall a very large benefit for us."

Currently, Amazon is about nine months construction on its HQ2 towers.

The project started with the demolition of several 1950s-era warehouses that once stood on the HQ2 site located near the intersection of South Eads Street and 15th Street South.

RELATED: Amazon HQ2 update: contractor talks construction concerns & progress in Pentagon City

Amazon's contractor says mass excavation is about 97 percent complete. That means they've removed enough soil to fill nearly 44,000 dump trucks.

Four of five tower cranes have been erected at the HQ2 site over the last few weeks, with the fifth tower crane scheduled to be installed in December.

There have been some growing pains along the way. This spring, neighbors were frustrated by noisy pile driving that took place as thousands of people living nearby were stuck working from home due to COVID-19.

More recently, concrete pouring has begun, which means an increase in truck traffic around the job site in Pentagon City.

"We apologize for all the noise and the debris. And of course, the most intrusive part of the construction, the pile driving, happened this spring right as unfortunately, people were working from home. But we listened to those concerns and we adjusted the construction hours and the timing to minimize disruption as much as possible, and we were able to finish the pile driving ahead of schedule," said Huseman. "We want this to be as easy a process as construction can be, and the end result is going to be terrific for the neighborhood."

He said construction on the HQ2 towers is on schedule, and the company hopes the work will be finished by 2023.

On Monday, the company also announced plans to donate $9 million to various organizations in the DMV. Amazon said the donation is in honor of its two year anniversary in Arlington.

"It has been our goal from the beginning to be a good neighbor and be a good corporate citizen," said Huseman. "We want to be an active and helpful presence in the community."

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According to Amazon, the $9 million will be distributed as follows:

  • $3 million to five legal service providers to help support families in the Virginia and D.C. region.
  • $1 million to organizations that are advancing the cause of racial equity and community empowerment, such as Bridges to Independence, Offender Aid and Restoration, and the Arlington Branch NAACP Scholarship Program.
  • $1 million to community health facilities, including the Arlington Free Clinic, Alexandria Neighborhood Health, Children’s National Hospital, and the Virginia Hospital Center.
  • $500,000 to community organizations that will help advance economic opportunity through literacy programs and job training, such as La Cocina VA, DC Central Kitchen, and the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia.
  • $3.5 million designated for community organizations across the region supporting important causes like sustainability, small businesses, and military families.
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