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Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos speaking at the Economic Club of Washington, D.C. (Economic Club of Washington, D.C. Photo / Gary Cameron)

When Jeff Bezos revealed his plans to open a second Amazon headquarters last September, he said, “we expect HQ2 to be a full equal to our Seattle headquarters.”

The announcement kicked off one of the most extraordinary economic development contests in history, putting cities in competition with one another as they sought to land the 50,000 jobs and $5 billion investment Amazon that dangled in its request for proposals.

But HQ2 may not actually equal Amazon’s original Seattle campus — or really be a headquarters at all. Amazon plans to split its second headquarters evenly between two cities, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal on Monday, citing an anonymous source familiar with the matter. Each location would get half of the 50,000 employees.

That would size the mini HQ2s somewhere between Amazon’s 45,000-strong Seattle headquarters and the company’s 18 satellite offices in cities across the U.S. and Canada. Amazon employs thousands at its smaller offices.

The pivot sparked snark from reporters and spectators who have spent more than a year speculating on what an influx of 50,000 high-paid tech workers would mean for the winning city.

It still isn’t clear if Amazon has honed in on two winners yet, but The Journal reported Sunday the company was in final discussions with Northern Virginia, Dallas, and New York City.  Late on Monday, The New York Times reported that Amazon would move to the Long Island City neighborhood of Queens, across the river from Midtown Manhattan in New York, in addition to another headquarters in the Crystal City area of Arlington, Va.

There are 20 cities in the running for HQ2 and Amazon plans to announce the winning city — or cities — by the end of the year.

Opening two offices instead of one second headquarters is a departure from what Amazon originally said it had planned. But from the very beginning, the company cautioned it might take an alternate route in an oft-overlooked caveat at the end of the HQ2 request for proposals.

“Amazon may select one or more proposals and negotiate with the parties submitting such proposals before making an award decision, or it may select no proposals and enter into no agreement,” the company said.

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