‘Forget the campus, build a city.’ Beruff renews plea to Amazon to build HQ2 in Manatee

Public backlash led to the cancellation of Amazon’s east coast headquarters in New York. Now one local developer says it’s time for the online retail giant to reconsider Manatee County.

More than 900 acres of land along Manatee’s border with Hillsborough County is being offered up to Jeff Bezos. Carlos Beruff said that land could be the home of “the city Amazon built,” in a full-page advertisement in Thursday’s edition of the Wall Street Journal.

The ad, which highlighted the county’s proximity to Tampa and an emphasis on “old-fashioned southern hospitality,” was paid for by Beruff’s Medallion Home. In a blog posted Feb. 14, Amazon announced that it would back out of its plan to bring a corporate headquarters to New York and would not be reopening its search.

It doesn’t hurt to ask, though, Beruff said.

“We need to show them that Florida is friendly and Manatee would treat them with respect. You never know. If you don’t take a swing at the ball, you can’t hit it,” he explained. “I recognize the odds, but I’ve played longer ones.”

Beruff previously proposed the same 935 acres of land along Moccasin Wallow Road near I-75. The site failed to make Amazon’s selection of 20 finalists. Amazon ultimately decided to split the planned corporate office into two locations — one in Long Island City, N.Y., outside New York City, and another in Arlington, Va., outside of Washington, D.C.

Bradenton developer Carlos Beruff on Thursday placed this advertisement in the Wall Street Journal, asking Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to build a headquarters in Manatee County.

Politicians and residents alike derided the Long Island deal that would give Amazon a host of incentives, including a $3 billion tax subsidy package, access to a helicopter pad and even an offer to decorate the Empire State Building with orange lights.

“New York wasn’t very nice to them. I still haven’t figured out what they were thinking. I didn’t understand why they kicked them out, but what I do know is that you can live in Manatee County for easily 30 to 40 percent of the cost and have a better quality of life,” said Beruff. “If you’re looking at your employees, that’s something Amazon should consider.”

A high-quality lifestyle isn’t all Beruff wants Amazon to consider, however. He said they should look at an area ripe for development, especially in regards to the workforce in the next generation.

“If you’re trying to plan this area for people my age, they missed the boat,” said the 61-year-old developer. “They could give elementary kids a future. We should be planning for our kids here now to give an opportunity at a good paying job that they can vacation with, pay for college with.”

At his Moccasin Wallow site, the possibilities are endless, Beruff argued. The WSJ ad touted how close the area is to Tampa, but it’s also a space to begin something new entirely, “without stretching the rubber bands.”

“If you look at our proposal, it offers everything they asked. We could even build a complete solar grid if they’re so inclined. We could show the world how to build a city that’s self-sufficient.”

A site in Southwest Florida wouldn’t be completely unfamiliar territory for Amazon. The e-commerce retailer already has a warehouse and package fulfillment center in Ruskin, just 14 miles away from Beruff’s proposed site.

The Parrish area is also one that’s expanding quickly. More than 23,000 homes are planned for the near future in the same area where construction is underway on a new high school, elementary school and a new State College of Florida campus. Ironically, developers recently broke ground on a housing development off of U.S. 301 called Villages of Amazon South.

Amazon initially offered 50,000 high-paying jobs in its East Coast headquarters, but that number dropped to 25,000 after it backed out of an agreement with New York. Beruff says there’s still potential for that many jobs to transform the Manatee area.

“It’s just common sense when you’ve got 25,000 people with the income they can afford to pay for what they want, and of course Amazon will need services and those companies will want to be close by. So I think it’s just that activity breeds activity. That’s always been the case.”

According to the WSJ ad, Beruff says “Manatee County will roll out the red carpet,” although he admitted that he hasn’t spoken with local officials to brainstorm a list of incentives that might win Amazon over. In a statement, Sharon Hillstrom, president and CEO of the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp., said her organization is ready to lend a hand.

“We understand Carlos Beruff is pursuing this,” Hillstrom said. “If Amazon should express interest, we would assist.”

Ryan Callihan is the Bradenton Herald’s County Reporter, covering local government and politics. On the weekends, he also covers breaking news. Ryan is a graduate of USF St. Petersburg.
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