Is Miami still in the running for Amazon’s HQ2? Depends on whom you ask

Amazon officials recently returned to Miami as part of their HQ2 scouting. CEO Jeff Bezos was spotted in town around the same time.
Amazon officials recently returned to Miami as part of their HQ2 scouting. CEO Jeff Bezos was spotted in town around the same time. AP

According to oddsmaker Bovada, Miami remains the longest shot among the 20 finalist cities for Amazon’s massive HQ2 project, which promises to bring 50,000 jobs and billions in investment to one lucky metro. Supporting those odds: The Washington Post reported Saturday that Northern Virginia has entered “advanced talks” with the company. Jonathan O’Connell, one of the Washington Post’s reporters, later Tweeted, “It’s possible no decision has been made and other locations are this far down the road. But at least four other locations considered strong contenders are not...DC, Maryland and two others. Not Miami though. I don’t know the Miami situation well.” 

Those handicappers may have missed an important development in the Magic City.

Around the time Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was spotted at one of Miami’s most famous nightclubs in September, Amazon officials were back in Miami on a due-diligence mission for HQ2, according to two individuals with knowledge of the visit.

One person, who asked not to be named because of a non-disclosure agreement, said Amazon officials visited to get a feel for Miami without any official guides or chaperones.

Amazon’s team was also hoping to learn more about Miami’s transit, housing and education capacities. Amazon wants to grow in Latin America and Europe, and sees Miami as a potential launching ground to expand into those regions, according to the source.

The Miami World Center development downtown has been handicapped as one of the most likely landing spots for HQ2 should it land in South Florida. An official for Hines, which represents Amazon properties and which plans to build a 600,000-square-foot office tower in the development, declined to comment.

The visit was first reported in October by the South Florida Business Journal. The Wall Street Journal subsequently reported Amazon had “followed up” with Miami. The Journal reported Amazon officials had also conducted follow-ups with Chicago, Newark, N.J., New York City, and Washington, D.C.

Amazon declined to comment on whether a visit occurred. The company reiterated that a winning city would be announced by the end of the year.

Other South Florida business leaders and boosters who helped put together the area’s HQ2 bid together said they are bound by non-disclosure agreements and could not comment on the visit.

The prospect of an instant influx of 50,000 new residents raises questions about traffic, housing and other quality of life issues in South Florida. But many residents still say they would be in favor of Amazon’s expansion here. The company already employs more than 4,000 full-time employees in South Florida at area fulfillment centers.

“I am okay with it,” said Frank Vega, owner of the Two Wheel Picker bike shop in Kendall, in an email. Vega has been a vocal proponent of increased transit options and diversified job opportunities. “I know the people they employ will spend money in Miami and surrounding counties. Which in turn grows the local economy and allows more business to grow in South Florida. We need more high-tech companies to come here and grow our business to Central and South America.”

Maria Derchi, director of Refresh Miami, a nonprofit group supporting Miami’s tech community, said the arrival of Amazon would address an issue unique to South Florida.

“Winning the bid for Amazon HQ2 could help with what I call South Florida’s ‘Plan B’ problem,” she said in an email. “We’ve spoken with talent in other cities that have been enticed by opportunities at various startups here, but they fear if the role they move here for doesn’t work out, they don’t have a lot of large tech companies to fall back on. Having Amazon here could help quell those concerns and thereby drive talent to some of these smaller organizations.”

Ximena Aliaguilla, who works as a quality assurance specialist for a global web design firm with offices in Miami-Dade, says she would benefit from having that ‘Plan B.’

“It definitely would be great for the current situation in Miami, where there’s not a lot of high-paying jobs, especially in comparison to high cost of living,” she said. “I think the kind of jobs Amazon brings would be the kind of jobs young people looking for a career could take, and also achieve a better standard of living here.”

But she said she has concerns about whether Miami is equipped to handle all that would come with HQ2.

“I do worry about transit,” she said. “Depending on where Amazon would end up, it’s very difficult to get around, and do it at a low cost. Even if they are centrally located, like downtown Miami, currently where most people can afford to live, people with young families, is out in Doral, Kendall, places of that nature.”

Vega echoed those concerns.

“Our infrastructure needs to match the growth, which it is not,” he said. “That is a real problem.”

The incentives offered by state and local leaders to win the HQ2 bid remain unclear. Details of South Florida’s HQ2 bid, which was put together by officials in Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties, are exempt from Sunshine laws; negotiations with all private companies are confidential. Local leaders have previously said Florida’s tax advantages outweigh incentives put forward by cities like Chicago and Newark.

Regardless of incentives, Miami residents like Mike Romeu, owner of Swett Melody Ice Cream, still believe it would be a boon for the city.

“I personally think it would be great,” he said. “A lot of local jobs would be made and it would [boost] Miami’s national profile.”