Miami-Dade County

Amazon plans mega warehouse in Opa-locka, will hire 1,000

Carrie Meek gives thumbs up as guests recognize her during the groundbreaking for the Carrie Meek Foundation’s new Amazon warehouse at Opa-locka airport. To her left is her daughter, Lucia Davis-Raiford.
Carrie Meek gives thumbs up as guests recognize her during the groundbreaking for the Carrie Meek Foundation’s new Amazon warehouse at Opa-locka airport. To her left is her daughter, Lucia Davis-Raiford.

Amazon plans to open its first mega warehouse in South Florida next year, an 850,000-square-foot facility staffed with robots and more than 1,000 workers in a tax-subsidized development deal with former congresswoman Carrie Meek’s foundation.

Miami-Dade is leasing the land for the new Meek industrial park and paying $5 million to cover infrastructure costs as the vacant property is transformed into a commercial center adjoining the county’s Opa-locka airport.

Amazon would be the primary tenant for the 97-acre complex, which will generate millions of dollars for the long-dormant Meek charity and is expected to pay Miami-Dade about $1.8 million in rent a year. The project was spearheaded by a county department head, Lucia Davis-Raiford, who is Meek’s daughter and director of Miami-Dade’s social services arm.

The long-sought development deal on county land stretches back decades to the 1980s, when another nonprofit sought a builder to launch a commercial venture on the government property. Meek’s foundation won exclusive development rights in 2008, but was stalled through the real estate bust and boom years that followed.

“The name Amazon will give instant credibility to the community,” said Commissioner Barbara Jordan, who represents Opa-locka and championed the Meek deal. “If Amazon can invest here, so can you.”

Amazon expects to open the warehouse next year, and it would be the largest south of Tampa. While the online retailer has some distribution centers in Miami-Dade already, this would be the first mega-warehouse in South Florida and could mean much quicker delivery for thousands of Amazon products.

“We haven’t confirmed shipping options just yet, but in many cities where we have large fulfillment centers we offer same-day service,” said Shevaun Brown, an Amazon communications manager.

The facility plans to hire more than 1,000 workers, who will work alongside Amazon’s growing fleet of robotic machines that help sort and transport packages that head out of distribution centers, said Felipe Millon, a Miami-based Amazon executive. He said the warehouse will store millions of items, and offer faster delivery far beyond the groceries and consumables that are available on the same day for Amazon’s new 50,000-square-foot Prime Now facility in Wynwood.

“We’re always looking for ways to get closer to customers, and get even faster delivery,” Millon said.

The Meek project’s $5 million economic-development subsidy will be borrowed against a special property tax dedicated to county debt, part of a $2.9 billion bond project voters approved in 2004. While economic development wasn’t on the ballot, the $75 million fund was included in a list of projects approved by the County Commission before the referendum.

Commissioners imposed hiring requirements and minimum wages on the Meek property, which partnered with an Orlando developer, Foundry Commercial, to seek the kind of large tenant that would make the project profitable. But recent months saw commissioners and the administration of Mayor Carlos Gimenez roll back those requirements to clear the way for the Amazon lease.

An Inspector General report in January detailed “significant” reductions in hiring requirements tied to the $5 million grant, from 2,300 new jobs to 1,000. The county also scaled back wage requirements: instead of average earnings of $37,000 a year for all workers, the target wage was dropped to about $28,000 and limited to half of the positions.

The long-running negotiations put a spotlight on Davis-Raiford’s role as the Meek Foundation’s primary leader while the group was in talks with the Gimenez administration. As a Gimenez appointee, Davis-Raiford runs the department of Community Action and Human Services. County officials insisted Davis-Raiford had no role in negotiations.

A press release this week from the foundation’s law firm, Becker & Poliakoff, said otherwise, saying Davis-Raiford and one of the firm’s lawyers formed a “duo” that “worked tirelessly for over six years and handled everything from the lease negotiations to the joint venture partner selection while simultaneously negotiating with the county, the FAA and Foundry Commercial.” After the Miami Herald inquired, that release was corrected to say the lawyer, Jennifer Bales Drake, handled negotiations alone.

Davis-Raiford said Thursday she didn’t see the release before it went out, and that she left county negotiations to others. “I have a day job,” she said.

The Meek Foundation plans to build a headquarters on the property. It has pledged to use proceeds from the development — including $3 million now that site work has begun — to fund job-training programs and other efforts to boost the local economy.

“This is a blessing,” Meek, 91, said during a rare speaking appearance at the ceremony, addressing the crowd from a wheelchair. “God brought this. That’s why we’re here.”

Related stories from Miami Herald