Miami Wants Amazon to Build Its Giant New Headquarters in Overtown

Overtown residents were already worried about the proposed Miami Innovation District and the under-construction Miami WorldCenter, both of which cross into the historically black neighborhood. The once-segregated area has been systematically destroyed by terrible urban planning for decades. Now locals worry that without better regulations, the new buildings will drive up real-estate prices and push out longtime residents.

And that was before Miami pitched turning the district into a massive Amazon headquarters.

Yesterday the anonymous real-estate blog the Next Miami published a Miami Innovation District brochure and said the information had been sent to Amazon as part of the pitch for the retail giant's first massive office park outside its Seattle headquarters. Last week, Miami was named one of 20 finalists for the headquarters, which would provide upward of 50,000 jobs.

A city official, who did not want to be quoted because they are not authorized to speak to the media, confirmed to New Times that Miami had asked Amazon to consider locating its new headquarters on the Innovation District site. Because part of the complex sits in Overtown's Community Redevelopment Area, the Next Miami says Amazon could receive more than $1 billion in subsidies. (Miami Mayor Francis Suarez also confirmed the news to the Real Deal South Florida on Friday.)

That city officials pitched the tech giant on relocating to the Innovation District property isn't shocking: The complex sits near what little public transportation the city has, comes with a dedicated Brightline train platform to help employees run over pedestrians travel from Miami to West Palm Beach and eventually Orlando, and can be tailored to fit the company's many needs. The Innovation District was pitched in 2015 as a technology hub.

But even speculation that Amazon might move to Overtown is sure to upset the neighborhood's residents, who are already nervous about the Innovation District's impact on the area and otherwise pissed off that soccer star David Beckham plans to shoehorn a Major League Soccer stadium into the area too.

When New Times reached Overtown community activist Edduard Prince in 2015 for his thoughts on the Innovation District pitch, he wasn't exactly pleased. "The community is completely frustrated, and the frustration is growing," he said at the time.

Community frustration has not subsided: When City of Miami commissioners floated Overtown as a possible Amazon locale last October, local activists were, at best, cautiously optimistic. Most said the HQ2 plan would only help the surrounding area if the plan included mandatory tax or job benefits for Overtown.

"I would be pleased if... the priority was given to the zip code in which it's located," local activist Jackie Bell told New Times last year. "If the location is in an area that they don't have to displace anyone, then that would be OK, but they have displaced enough people from Overtown."

Miami Wants Amazon to Build Its Giant New Headquarters in Overtown
Courtesy of Miami Innovation District, SHoP Architects

Last week, Amazon announced it had narrowed its HQ2 search from seemingly every city in North America to 20 finalists. At least 15 of those cities make basically zero sense, such as Denver, Newark, Raleigh, and Nashville. But other locations, including New York, D.C., Philadelphia, Toronto, and — perhaps — Miami, do have some logic.

Either way, Amazon has done a masterful job of maintaining leverage by pitting cities against one another. The HQ2 "sweepstakes" is basically a massive act of corporate extortion, wherein Amazon is forcing city officials to offer increasingly ludicrous real-estate and tax-incentive packages to lure a white-collar-jobs machine. Some have groveled more than others: Stonecrest, Georgia, promised to rename itself "Amazon" if the company moved there. But critics say the spectacle proves Amazon is way too powerful and ensures the company won't be taxed or regulated fairly wherever it ends up. That includes Overtown, which will basically become Amazontown if the long-shot pitch is actually selected.

There are, of course, other downsides to bringing a massive Amazon office park to the Magic City: As the Chicago Tribune and Miami Herald noted recently, Amazon's rise in Seattle has coincided with a massive spike in rental costs, housing prices, and homelessness. Seattle, a progressive city with a relatively forward-thinking local government, has been so far unable to figure out how to keep housing costs down for middle-, working-, and lower-class residents, and Miami, a city run by thieves and fools, will not fare better. Overtown is already suffering from a rent spike.

But so far, the pitches Miami officials have sent to Amazon have been largely kept secret, minus the announcement that five sites in Miami-Dade County, two in Broward County, and one in Palm Beach County were submitted as part of a regional package deal. In December, national Splinter News reporter Danny Rivero obtained some of the City of Miami's pitch documents: It appears local officials spent close to $100,000 preparing to pitch the city to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

That package included this video, in which one woman interviewed claims she doesn't need a car to traverse downtown Miami on the weekends:

The adjacent Miami WorldCenter property has also infuriated both Overtown regulars and the city's music community because the area sits just blocks from downtown Miami's major club district. Club owners, including those who run Heart and Space, have been sparring with wealthy condo developers for years: Heart's owners even filed a lawsuit in 2017 alleging developers and investors were filing bogus noise complaints against the clubs to get them shut down. 

And that's before the Innovation District really begins to take shape. Infamously, the plans in 2015 called for a 633-foot, blindingly bright LED advertising tower — local real-estate investor and billboard-fighting activist Peter Ehrlich voiced his displeasure with the project in 2015. Ehrlich runs the group Scenic Miami, which, among other endeavors, tries to prevent gigantic advertising projects from getting built.

"It's one of the worst projects ever proposed in Miami-Dade County," he told New Times that year. "This is the worst-case scenario we've ever envisioned since we were founded."

Of course, the only real question that matters is whether Bezos is serious about bringing Amazon to Miami. That largely depends upon how serious the company is about selling items in Latin America, something the company has not yet invested major resources into tackling. (Multiple cities in Texas remain in the running too.) For now, most outside observers think the company will move closer to Washington, D.C. — where Bezos recently bought a newspaper and a huge house.

Here are the documents the Next Miami posted online yesterday:

amzn by None None None on Scribd


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