The details of Miami’s bid to lure Amazon to build its second headquarters in South Florida have been scarce — and are about to get more so.
On Thursday, the Miami-Dade Beacon Council, which is spearheading the effort to bring the $5 billion Amazon HQ2 to South Florida, asked all participants to sign non-disclosure agreements, said sources close to the project. Amazon chief Jeff Bezos reportedly has insisted on secrecy as the short-listed cities move into the second round of requests for information.
Since Amazon announced a list of 20 finalist cities on Jan. 18, the speculation in the media has grown to March Madness proportions. The question buzzing through Miami: If Amazon picked our city, where would the headquarters be located?
Miami’s original bid reportedly included eight potential sites — five in Miami-Dade, two in Broward and one in Palm Beach — that would fulfill Amazon’s HQ2 requirements of an initial 500,000 square feet of existing office space, on-site access to public transport, proximity to airports and livable, lively communities.
Amazon’s latest request for information has whittled down the number of sites being considered, Beacon Council President Mike Finney told a group at a conference hosted by the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce earlier this week.
The number of local sites now under consideration is “much lower than eight,” Finney said. He would not disclose the next response deadline but noted Amazon’s stated intention of naming a site by the end of this year, calling it “a fairly tight timeline.”
So which sites are still in the running?
Two people familiar with the pitch told the Herald that the city of Doral, which originally planned to make its own bid before throwing in with the Beacon Council, is still in the running.
Two downtown Miami-Dade locations reportedly are also being considered.
The Next Miami website first reported, and the Miami Herald has confirmed through sources, that the 27-acre Miami Worldcenter mixed-use project and the adjacent 10-acre Miami Innovation District have been bundled as one location in the pitch. Miami Worldcenter is already under construction near the new Miami Central Brightline terminal.
Sources told the Miami Herald that another downtown location owned by developer Mitchell Newman in Overtown is also still on the list. That brings the total to three.
On Jan. 24, after Miami was shortlisted, the Miami New Times reported that the 49-acre Lake Carmen site at 1800 NW 119th St., was included in the original pitch. It is unclear whether it is still under consideration.
It is also unclear whether the still-unidentified residential sites in Broward and Palm Beach located near the Brightline train stations are still on the list. In downtown Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, filling the public transportation requirements mandated by Amazon.
Going on lockdown
Despite the great interest in Miami’s bid, Beacon Council CEO Mike Finney stressed the need for secrecy in an interview with Tom Hudson on this week’s “The Sunshine Economy” WLRN show.
“Anytime we compete for a project of this magnitude — and frankly smaller projects — we think it’s really important that we try to maintain as much confidentiality as possible,” Finney said. “It prevents our competitors from diving into our proposal and tipping our hand with respect to directionally where we might be going, We just think it’s important for these projects to be as much off the radar screen as possible.”
During remarks Tuesday at the annual Economic Summit hosted by the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, Finney quoted from The Next Miami story, saying he was unable to verify whether it was accurate.
In November, the Miami Herald filed a public records request for the HQ2 application from Miami-Dade but has not received a response from the county.
One rumor that can be definitively settled: Land owned by entrepreneur and art patron Moishe Mana, who controls substantial property in Wynwood and along downtown Miami’s Flagler Street, is not part of Miami’s HQ2 bid.
Though some published reports suggested his properties were part of Miami’s pitch, Dylan Finger, managing director for Mana Miami, said they were not included.
Mana is pursuing plans for a trade and expo center linking Asia and South America in Wynwood, and a mix of retail and office development downtown and did not want to tie up his holdings waiting on a decision from Amazon, Finger said.
But he said the Beacon Countil is “aware” of the Mana properties, and Mana would be keenly interested in participating should Miami snag the Amazon HQ2.
“We would love for the Amazon HQ2 to come to Miami, and we would be open to the possibility, but we wanted to keep things flexible,” Finger said.
Defying the odds
Some speculators are skeptical of Miami’s chances to win the Amazon HQ2 bid. As of Jan. 19, the online sports betting site Bovada has Miami in a dead heat with Cleveland for last place on the list of 20 finalists.
Finney has said publicly that South Florida is not offering incentives beyond those already available to any company willing to move here. Some other locations reportedly have offered billions.
But there are factors at play in Miami that could give the city an edge, including weather and the absence of state and local personal income taxes.
There’s the matter of timing, as well. For example, the sprawling Miami Worldcenter is already under construction. It in itself will offer 2,000 condos and rental apartments, 1,700 hotel rooms, 500,000 square feet of expo/convention space and a 500,000 square-foot Class A office tower being built by Hines, the real estate investment firm that already manages Amazon’s real estate holdings throughout the Americas. It is directly across the street from the Network Access Point (NAP) of the Americas — the cube-shaped data center that routes 90 percent of digital traffic coming in from Latin and South America into the U.S..
Not yet committed are 10 acres of available land that has already received government approval for 10 million square feet of density. Amazon HQ2 is seeking the ability to expand its initial 500,000-square-foot office space requirements to eight million.
Said Nitin Motwani, managing principal of Miami Worldcenter Associates, “there are a lot of suns, moons and stars aligning, not just for the Worldcenter but for Miami in general,” he said. “We’re no longer just a beacon of South America. We have a far more diverse economy and community now, and all that plays into Amazon’s desire to grow their brand globally.”
But while there’s nothing wrong with healthy optimism, some real estate industry experts think people should lower their expectations — especially since Amazon isn’t expected to make its final decision until the end of the year.
“I don’t think being one out of 20 finalists is such a great thing,” said Neisen O. Kasdin, managing partner of the Akerman LLP law firm’s Miami office. “Everyone is high-fiving each other, but those odds aren’t great. It’s a little early to get excited. Let’s keep our cool here.”
Herald staff writers Jane Wooldridge and Douglas Hanks contributed to this report.