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Locals Push Back Against Overtown as Site for Huge Amazon Headquarters

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Across America, cities are licking their chops for the opportunity to recruit Amazon's second headquarters. In South Florida, business boards in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties have teamed up on a joint proposal, while the City of Doral is going rogue with its own plan to beat the competition.

If Amazon is interested in Miami, however, city commissioners have already discussed what they consider the only logical location for the massive new HQ: Overtown.

"It has to be in an urban setting... The only place is Overtown," Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado said at a commission meeting last week.

At this stage in the game, any talk of Amazon setting up shop in a particular city is purely speculative. But the online retailer's search for a new headquarters has already set off fears of gentrification and displacement of residents in Miami's historically black community, which has time and again been subjected to destructive development.

"Any deal that’s done with Overtown is done with disrespect toward the people," activist Edduard Prince says. "To bring Amazon will not benefit the people at all. The people will be moved aside."

Cities have until October 19 to submit their proposals, but according to Amazon, the company will give preference to places with strong job growth, a skilled labor pool, good quality of life, and easy commuting. The area also must be able to accommodate an 8.1-million-square-foot building with office space for up to 50,000 employees.

Last week, Miami commissioners said Overtown would be the best fit in terms of available land and nearby transportation.

"The one place I automatically think about is the Overtown community," said Commissioner Keon Hardemon, who represents the district.

Commissioner Ken Russell agrees, telling CBS 4 that the new Brightline train station makes Overtown an attractive choice.

"If you got right to the core of downtown, where Miami Central Station will be, you have Omni CRA [Community Redevelopment Agency] and Overtown CRA," Russell told the TV station. "There’s significant land in that area."

But community activists remain split over whether Amazon would be a positive addition to the neighborhood. Amanda Quirke Hand, an attorney and resident who started the Overtown Spring Garden Community Collective to oppose David Beckham's plan for a nearby Major League Soccer stadium, does not share the same concerns about a diminished quality of life when it comes to the Amazon project.

"It would be an awesome opportunity for Overtown with meaningful employment opportunities," she tells New Times. "It would bring a lot of meaningful jobs and daily business activity to the area."

Jackie Bell, a longtime activist and head of the New Washington Heights Community Development Conference, says she would support bringing Amazon into Overtown only if the city negotiated for residents to get job priority and chose a location that would least burden the community.

"I would be pleased if... the priority was given to the zip code in which it's located," Bell says. "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."

Prince says he's skeptical of the city's intentions in pitching Overtown for the headquarters given the neighborhood's embattled past with the erection of I-95 and Beckham's proposed stadium.

"The history speaks for itself," Prince says. "Every deal, the people are not protected; they're disrespected."

Hardemon was unavailable to speak with New Times Thursday about the concerns in Overtown, and his chief of staff did not return an email last week seeking comment. Amazon says it will make a decision on the location for its new headquarters next year, and construction is expected to begin as early as 2019.

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