1. Business

Pinellas, Hillsborough join forces to enter Amazon bidding war

Amazon announced Sept. 7 that it has opened the search for a second headquarters, promising to spend more than $5 billion on the opening. [AP file Photo/Richard Drew
Published Sep. 27, 2017

Pinellas and Hillsborough counties will join forces in an effort to convince Amazon to build a new world headquarters in the Tampa Bay area.

ROBERT TRIGAUX: Tampa joins most competitive pursuit — to capture Amazon's new HQ2 (Sept. 8, 2017)

The nation's largest retailer wants to build a second campus — outside of its current headquarters in Seattle — in a region with more than 1 million people. That has launched a nationwide bidding war between cities and even states to land the online giant's second headquarters, known as HQ2.

Bay area officials acknowledge the region is not a frontrunner.

Pinellas County Economic Development Director Mike Meidel told the Pinellas County Commission Tuesday that both counties will partner with the cities of St. Petersburg and Tampa in what is admittedly a long-shot effort to lure one of the richest companies in the world.

"This has never happened before," Meidel said about Amazon's search. "They are staging a beauty contest, essentially. We will submit a single proposal for the Tampa Bay area. That is huge."

"That's massive," Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn told the Tampa Bay Times. "We're going to give it our best shot."

The locations being discussed include the 85-acre site of Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg and the 40-acres that Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Bill Gates' Cascade Investment capital fund have assembled at the southern end of downtown Tampa.

The land around Tropicana Field is the best Pinellas site because its publicly owned and could accommodate large towers, Meidel said. Whether the Tampa Bay Rays build a new stadium in St. Petersburg or Tampa, the city still plans to redevelop the Trop site.

Tampa has less room and options to work with. A site there could require utilizing the 45 acres that the Tampa Port Authority owns near the Channel District. Tampa officials could also look at whether its worth trying to move the ConAgra flour mill, Buckhorn said, so that an Amazon campus could maximize connections with downtown, Ybor City and the Channel District waterfront.

Amazon wants the proposals by Oct. 19. Some of their other requirements include a business-friendly environment with proximity to an international airport. Any proposal must have enough land to build 8 million square feet of office space.

The company said average compensation for its workers would be about $100,000 annually. Amazon plans to spend more than $5 billion to build its new campus over the next 15 to 17 years.

Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. CEO Craig Richard said he could not discuss any details about the region's joint bid, but said regional cooperation could give the bay area an advantage over more competitive areas.

"Regional proposals are generally viewed more favorably than individual city bids," he said. "Perhaps we can develop a model by which we can collaborate and work regionally more often. I think it just makes our region more competitive when we do that."

Local officials must act fast to present a plan to the state by Oct. 9. The state will then complete revenue forecasts and offer equal incentives for any region in Florida submitting a plan. In South Florida, groups in Miami and Fort Lauderdale are joining forces to submit a bid, and bids are also expected from Jacksonville and Orlando.

But it could get expensive. Buckhorn anticipated that Gov. Rick Scott would have to ask for "tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars" in state economic development incentives to attract Amazon to Florida.

"If we ever were to get that, that's going to change a city overnight," Buckhorn said. "For the mid-sized, emerging cities, the Pittsburghs and the Nashvilles, if you put it in there, it's going to be a game changer."

The biggest hurdle facing the Tampa Bay region may be the lack of a regional transportation system, which other metropolitan areas in the running already have.

"The response will have to address (that shortcoming)," Meidel said. Pinellas voters defeated a 1-cent sales tax to pay for transportation needs in 2014. Last year, the Hillsborough County Commission wouldn't even let a similar referendum go before its voters.

Still, bay area officials are excited to join the national competition.

"Even if we make the short list that's a good thing for us," Buckhorn said. "Six, seven, eight, nine years ago, you never would have seen Tampa on a list like that."

Added Meidel: "If we make the short list, it's huge (public relations).


  1. Frances Werner-Watkins Julie Rinaldi
    News and notes on local businesses
  2. Left to right: Oak Hill Hospital Anesthesiology residents Daniel Eskander, Wayne Simmons, Jeffrey Huang and Benjamin Segil. Katie Stacy/Oak Hill Hospital
    News and notes on local businesses
  3. A total of 131 employees are scheduled to be laid off in January as Locale Market and Farm Table Cucina close at the Sundial to make way for a new food hall created by the developers of the Heights Public Market at the Armature Works in Tampa. CHRIS URSO   |   TIMES
    In a notice to the state of Florida, Sundial owner Bill Edwards said the layoffs are expected to take place the first week of January.
  4. WeWork is opening Tampa offices at 501 E Kennedy Blvd. despite company struggles, including $1.25 billion in losses over 2019. SCOTT KEELER  |  Tampa Bay Times
    WeWork has 200 planned coworking space openings as leadership tries to manage $1.25 billion in losses.
  5. Florida's unemployment rate was unchanged in October at 3.2 percent, according to numbers released Friday. LYNNE SLADKY  |  AP
    The latest numbers were released Friday morning.
  6. Apollo Global Management has offered $130 per share for Tech Data's stock in an acquisition worth $5.4 billion. If regulators shareholders approve, the home-grown company will remain based in Pinellas County, where it employs 2,000 of its 14,000 workers. DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Private equity firms like Apollo create wealth for pension funds, financial institutions and individual investors by buying assets that typically are sold later at a profit.
  7. Some of Tampa Bay's largest companies are being sold or are up for sale. Times files and Bloomin' Brands
    Tech Data is just the latest in a growing list of public companies bought up by out-of-state firms.
  8. Hillsborough Community College solicited "non-binding letters of interest or intent” last month from developers interested in purchasing the Dr. Gwendolyn W. Stephenson District Administration Center on Davis Islands. OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    Developers have eyed the 3.7 acre waterfront parcel for years, but recent interest has prompted the college’s trustees to finally start the conversation.
  9. Tampa International Airport looking north. The Wall Street Journal ranked it the best midsize airport in America. [Times files]
    TPA took first place in the Wall Street Journal’s annual survey of U.S. airports.
  10. Tech Data's CEO Rich Hume (left) shares a moment with former CEO Bob Dutkowsky during a send off celebration for Dutkowsky earlier this year. JIM DAMASKE   |   Times
    A private equity firm has agreed to buy Tech Data.