Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos
Courtesy of Amazon

Miami Considered a Previously Toxic Northwest Dade Lake for Amazon's HQ2 Site

In 2015, residents living near Lake Carmen, a manmade body of water in unincorporated Northwest Miami-Dade, complained that a landowner had tried to fill in the lake with toxic soil that included traces of reclaimed asphalt, tile, lead, arsenic, and petroleum. But the county's Department of Environmental Resources Management (DERM) says it's since cleaned up the area.

Now, a source involved in Miami's bid to bring Amazon's massive new headquarters to town says that once-poisonous site has been pitched as a possible location. The site at 1800 NW 119th St. is the second major location to leak out from Miami's HQ2 bid. The source confirmed to New Times today that the site on 119th Street had been included as part of Miami's pitch to Amazon. New Times has confirmed that Miami-Dade's Beacon Council, the county's central economic-development agency, was gathering information about the property last year.

But details about the specific proposal remain hazy. The Beacon Council, which handled the Amazon bid for the entire area, is keeping a tight lid on its work. Susan Greene, a Beacon Council spokesperson, said the bids were totally "confidential" and that the Council will "not be confirming or denying" any locations.

The Miami Herald has reported that eight South Florida sites — five in Miami-Dade, two in Broward, and one in Palm Beach County — were formally pitched to Amazon. If the company does decide to move to Miami with up to 50,000 new jobs, it will change the makeup of the city for decades to come, for better or worse.

The lake property's owner, Ricardo L. Rodriguez, who runs a company called RRR Z LLC, said via phone today that he also could not talk about what may or may not have been pitched to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. Representatives for Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez's office said they could not comment, and County Commissioner Jean Monestime's office did not respond to a phone call.

Miami remains a long shot for Amazon's first corporate office park outside Seattle. But details are slowly starting to leak out about what properties Amazon is considering in the Miami area. Late last week, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez confirmed to the Real Deal South Florida that the proposed Miami Innovation District site in Overtown had been sent to the company, and Innovation District brochures leaked to the media this week. (In October, multiple Overtown residents complained to New Times that local officials don't seem to be doing enough to protect longtime residents who will likely be pushed out by an incoming office complex.)

The 49-acre Lake Carmen location makes a good deal of sense for Amazon. The site sits close to Opa-locka Executive Airport, an otherwise underutilized airfield that Amazon could easily turn into an aerial company hub. In June, the retail company also announced that it's building a distribution warehouse right on the airport's southeastern corner, and hiring 1,000 mostly blue-collar (and likely underpaid) workers in the process. The proposed Lake Carmen office site would sit about four miles away.

But there are obvious concerns with bringing the HQ2 site to the area: Like most of Miami, the area is already traffic-plagued and would struggle to fit the added glut of office workers Amazon wants to bring to HQ2.

And, of course, there are site-specific issues when it comes to Lake Carmen itself. The last time Rodriguez tried to fill in the lake and build a housing development on top, local residents, who like having the small body of water around, revolted and complained to numerous media outlets and petitioned County Commissioner Monestime.

That housing complex never got built — and Monestime later took credit in a newsletter for helping residents "save their urban oasis." Rodriguez's company was issued a $2,000 fine for construction and permitting violations. Rodriguez said in 2015 that 12 truckloads of landfill were removed from the property after residents complained.

Business owners, politicians, and local residents have voiced complaints this year that the Beacon Council has been pitching land to Amazon without even a hint of public hearings or approval. Some county officials, including County Commissioner Xavier Suarez, have complained for years that the Council often negotiates with business without giving the public a fair chance to comment on pending deals.

The Amazon HQ2 bid is still up in the air. While Miami remains on the company's list of 20 "top performing" cities (after surviving one of the saddest rounds of civic groveling and corporate extortion in recent history), most outside observers expect the retail company to move to Washington, D.C., so Bezos can oversee both Amazon and the Washington Post newspaper, which he also owns.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly named the neighborhood immediately around the lake, which is called Little River Farms.

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