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Amazon has landed (almost) in Kendall Square

Posted by Scott Kirsner  March 7, 2012 02:44 PM

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When I dropped by the ninth floor of the Cambridge Innovation Center this afternoon to verify that Amazon was getting ready to move in, I found a team of workers prepping the space. There aren't any Amazon employees in residence yet, but Amazon's smiley logo is already emblazoned on a few of the frosted glass doors. Amazon's new digs used to be the Cambridge outpost of Linden Lab, the developer of the virtual world Second Life. (Linden is based in San Francisco.)

I broke the news just before Christmas that Amazon was laying the groundwork for a Kendall Square office, and my understanding was that they hoped to open it in February. Things seem to have progressed a bit slower than Amazon might have liked on the real estate front, perhaps because there's no hotter (or pricier) neighborhood for tech and biotech employers than Kendall right now.

The number of Cambridge jobs listed on Amazon's HR site has been growing; today, I counted 32 open positions, from software engineers to technical recruiters to quality assurance testers who will work on products like the Kindle Fire and Amazon's Video on Demand service. Amazon is also hiring a few research scientists, presumably to work on blue-sky ideas rather than current offerings. Despite the job listings, the Seattle e-commerce company still hasn't made any public statements about its presence in Cambridge.

Tim Rowe, the chief executive of the Cambridge Innovation Center, said he could neither confirm nor comment about the Amazon office. And Amazon's public relations people haven't yet returned a call placed yesterday. Two sources in the real estate industry tell me they believe the Cambridge Innovation Center office is likely a "first foothold" for Amazon in Cambridge, where it can house employees while it searches for a larger space. (Both sources requested anonymity to avoid damaging their ability to do business with Amazon in the future.) Realtors have previously told me that Amazon is searching for 40,000 square feet in or near Kendall, and this space is a few thousand at most. (Update: Banker & Tradesman reports that Amazon is close to signing a 40,000 square foot lease at the Riverfront Office Park, at One Main Street right near the Longfellow Bridge.)

Amazon's trajectory in Cambridge could be similar to Google's; the Silicon Valley tech behemoth first opened a local engineering office at the Cambridge Innovation Center in 2005, and later moved into its own place in the nearby Cambridge Center office complex, between the MIT Coop and Legal Seafoods. (Google is currently trying to expand its footprint there.)

In January, Staples announced that it plans to open an "E-Commerce Innovation Center" in Kendall Square, but the Framingham-based office supply giant hasn't found space yet. Amazon and Staples are ranked as the #1 and #2 online retailers, respectively.

I'm eager to find out who will be running Amazon's Cambridge office, so tip me off if you happen to know...

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About Scott Kirsner

Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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March 3: Web Innovators Group
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Competition for aspiring game developers... plus panels and keynotes related to the business of play.

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