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East County Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017 1 year ago

Manatee County homebuilder submits Amazon headquarters bid

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Amazon's HQ2 would bring up to 50,000 employees and some $5 billion in capital investments.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

Manatee County, albeit a long shot, could be home to the next headquarters for online giant Amazon — a project that would include up to 50,000 employees and some $5 billion in capital investments.

The bid, officially submitted Monday by FedEx to Amazon’s original Seattle headquarters, comes from Sarasota-Manatee homebuilder Carlos Beruff. The site he proposed is 935 acres in north Manatee County, on the Manatee-Hillsborough County line, just off Interstate 75. Beruff, founder of Medallion Homes, bought the land for about $5 million in 2013.

“We can build a city for them here,” Beruff said. “They will have a blank palate.”

Amazon released a request for proposal for the headquarters project, what the company dubs HQ2, in September. That set of something of a frenzy among big cities and regions nationwide, including Tampa-St. Petersburg, to bid on the economic development prize. 

The national business press followed suit, analyzing the RFP for clues and hints to what city has the best chances. The New York Times, using the RFP as a guide, says the Denver metro area best fits the requirement. Moody’s Analytics, using the same guide, pegs the top five as Austin, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Rochester, N.Y. and Pittsburgh.

Manatee County wasn’t in the national conversation until Beruff chatted with Sarasota County Commissioner Mike Moran, a longtime friend. Moran mentioned the Manatee land Beruff owned, and he put the builder in touch with Sarasota area urban planner Shay Atluru, president and CEO of engineering consulting firm DTC. Atluru, in turn, worked with planning firm Looney Ricks Kiss on the initial Manatee County-Amazon HQ2 proposal for Beruff and his team.

As Atluru put it to Beruff, Manatee County checked many of the boxes Amazon says it seeks. That includes a metro area with one million or more residents; a stable and business-friendly environment; an urban or suburban location with the potential to attract and retain strong technical talent; communities that “think big” when considering locations and real estate options; and close proximity to a major international airport in Tampa International. It lacks one requirement, access to mass transit, which Beruff says can be fixed if it wins the project.

A team of Medallion employees, along with Atluru and LRK, put together a 93-page glossy and colorful book, filled with data, anecdotes and letters of support for its HQ2 application. Beruff calls the book “Hollywood, not mom-and-pop,” but with real data. It took about five weeks and $45,000 to create the book, Beruff said, and that doesn’t include hours taken off other projects at the $70 million homebuilder, founded in 1984. 

Beruff realizes the Amazon HQ2 bid isn’t a frontrunner in the eyes of the national data crunchers. But this is an entrepreneur, after all, who ran for U.S. Senator in a Republican primary in 2015-2016 without having ever won political office. He embraces the long shot — and he preaches that to his employees.

“You may strikeout,” Beruff said, “but if you don’t get in the batter’s box and take a swing, you will never get a hit.”

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