TAMPA — Hillsborough County commissioners officially added Amazon to their wish list Wednesday by approving the first of two financial incentives for the online retail giant to build a warehouse in Ruskin.
They can proceed to checkout when they take up the second and larger subsidy deal — a waiver of half the property taxes on the new distribution center for seven years — July 17.
Commissioners cast the decision as a no-brainer, likening Amazon curiously to a hurricane in terms of economic development, spinning off feeder bands of new construction in a part of the county hit hard by the recession.
"I'm a huge cheerleader for south county," said Commissioner Sandy Murman, who represents the area where the warehouse would be built. "This is our time. We're No. 1. This is going to be our time."
County officials have said Amazon and its affiliates would spend $200 million to build a 1-million-square foot "fulfillment center" at the South Shore Corporate Park, a vacant expanse near Interstate 75 and State Road 674. The company says the park would employ 1,000 permanent employees, including 375 that pay at least 15 percent more than the average state wage, or $47,581.
In exchange for those 375 "well-paying" jobs, commissioners unanimously approved paying Amazon $600 for each, or a total of $225,000, in installments spread out over at least four years, starting in 2016. That represents the county's match of an additional $2,400 for each of those jobs to be paid by the state, bringing the total cost of the subsidy to a little more than $1.1 million.
Commissioners said that's a small price to pay for the number of jobs and the likelihood that landing Amazon will establish Hillsborough, and South Shore in particular, as ripe for business investment.
"It's like having a perfect anchor come in and establish a store in your shopping center," said Commissioner Victor Crist. "Now everyone else wants to co-locate to have the same address. So the potential for leveraging jobs and businesses and economic viability are endless here.
"I don't see any downside here whatsoever."
The Amazon distribution center would take up about 70 acres of the South Shore Corporate Park, which includes nearly 1,000 acres and capacity for nearly 5 million square feet of building space. It now houses a 90,000-square-foot warehouse that has sat empty since it was built in 2007.
Developers would be required to widen or extend a number of roads near the center that would lead from the park to other major roadways.
In addition to the subsidy approved Wednesday, commissioners will consider a second tax break next month. It would waive half of the county property tax bill on the warehouse and equipment inside it for the first seven years of operation.
That's estimated to come to $913,680 a year, or about $6.4 million. The development also will likely qualify for an additional $2 million to $2.5 million in state incentives for the road work, county economic development director Ron Barton said Wednesday.
From the county's standpoint, none of the money is paid until Amazon makes it capital investment and hires and retains the better-paid employees, Barton said.
"We're giving away 50 percent of something we don't have today," he said. "It's like giving a dollar to get $5."
Barton has emphasized that Hillsborough is competing against other counties and said he expects Amazon could pick more than one site for distribution centers. The company's decision is expected in about a month.
Amazon has discussed opening in time for either the 2014 or 2015 Christmas holiday season, Barton said.
Commission Chairman Ken Hagan, who proposed the property tax incentive approved by voters in 2010, credited the county's aggressive business incentives program for putting South Shore in the hunt.
"It's not a coincidence that Texas has led the nation in job creation and that the film industry has exploded in Louisiana. It's called incentives," Hagan said. "For a modest investment, we will receive a significant return on our investment."
Bill Varian can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3387.