Business

Amazon plans Opa-locka warehouse with 1,000 jobs

The streetside view of the warehouse Amazon leases in the Doral area.
The streetside view of the warehouse Amazon leases in the Doral area. El Nuevo Herald

Amazon is expected to open one of the largest warehouses in the county at the Opa-locka airport, creating a nearly 900,000-square-foot distribution center with 1,000 jobs on the site being developed by the Carrie Meek Foundation and its for-profit partner.

The deal has been talked about for months, but only received official confirmation when Mayor Carlos Gimenez announced it during a televised debate Sunday with challenger Raquel Regalado. During an exchange on economic development, Gimenez said: “Amazon is coming to Miami-Dade County, and they’re going to have a huge warehouse at Opa-locka.”

Gimenez confirmed speculative media reports that pegged Amazon as the lone tenant touted by Meek representatives when the nonprofit won an extension in July to a long-stalled agreement with Miami-Dade. The deal gives the charity founded by the former congresswoman exclusive rights to build on the county-owned site at the airport.

The Meek Foundation and Orlando-based developer Foundry Commercial plan to build a distribution center and offices on the vacant land and pay Miami-Dade rent for it. Amazon would rent from the developer and foundation. The group is also on track to win a $5 million county subsidy to cover infrastructure costs for the site.

No one involved in the deal confirmed the Amazon project Tuesday, the first day that county offices opened since Gimenez’s statements on WFOR CBS-4’s “Facing South Florida” Sunday morning. But Amazon’s role as the Meek Foundation’s planned tenant is well known both within government circles and in Miami-Dade’s commercial real estate industry, according to interviews.

Walter Byrd, senior managing director of the Transwestern commercial real estate brokerage, said he’s looked at the Meek project as a potential landing spot for clients but that the pending Amazon deal has limited options there. He described the footprint, believed to be roughly 860,000 square feet, as one of the largest facilities of its kind in Miami-Dade.

“It’s a major deal,” he said. “That’s exceptionally large for our market.”

Amazon announced a similar facility in Jacksonville this summer as the Seattle-based retailer continues to expand its home-delivery shopping empire. The company already has a 340,000-square-foot distribution center near Doral. It’s not clear if the new facility will absorb the existing center’s functions. Its Opa-locka facility would employ 1,000 people, according to a September county memo describing a confidential economic-development project that a source with knowledge of the deal confirmed was Amazon.

By comparison, Amazon’s warehouse and fulfillment center in Ruskin, in south Hillsborough County, has 1.1 million square feet and has more than 2,500 full-time employees.

Called “Project Sol,” the “high-tech fulfillment center” would cost $198 million to build. The memo said the unnamed developer wants to start construction this fall and open a year later.

The developer is seeking $1.2 million in state and county business incentives, on top of the$5 million paid from money borrowed against property taxes under the county’s economic-development grant program. Of the $1.2 million, almost $1 million would come from state funds. While the Amazon facility would create 1,000 jobs, only 500 pay well enough (about $51,000 a year) to qualify for the incentive dollars, according to the memo.

Byrd said the Amazon facility could signal a trend toward putting distribution centers closer to the population centers in the east, rather than going for cheaper warehouse space in Miami-Dade’s western suburbs. Opa-locka, a county-owned airport, sits about four miles west of I-95, in the northeastern quadrant of Miami-Dade County.

“That whole northeastern pod of Miami-Dade hasn’t had new construction for years,” Byrd said, referring to large industrial projects. With Amazon investing in a large delivery center for its online business, “I think people will really look at it and say ‘This is real.’ ”

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