Amid the cacophony of cranes and construction crews at the 27-acre Miami Worldcenter in Overtown sits a swath of land, untouched.
These are the 10 acres set aside for the holy grail of tenants, Amazon, which last month announced that Miami would be among 20 cities on its shortlist for its second headquarters. The prospect of landing the $5 billion project sent every major developer in Miami – and their entourage of brokers, attorneys, project managers, and contractors – scrambling to make a deal that would define their careers.
Despite the region’s challenges, such as rising sea levels, mounting traffic issues and limited public transportation, Nitin Motwani, the lead developer of the Worldcenter, thinks he’s got a shot. His real-life assistant named Alexa adds to his optimism.
But the developer is also a realist, so he is moving ahead with his own project while following the e-commerce giant’s decision.
“It just so happens our timing could work out,” Motwani, who also sits on the board of Miami’s Downtown Development Authority, said. In the event Amazon decides to go elsewhere, those acres could go toward another project, he said.
The Miami Worldcenter site is one of eight locations in South Florida that Amazon included under the “Miami” umbrella. They were all submitted in a joint bid but proposed on their own. One of the sites is in Palm Beach County and two are in Broward. In Miami-Dade, another known site is Codina Partners’ Downtown Doral. (For a look at the gatekeepers managing Miami’s bid, see here)
Two others in the direct vicinity of the Worldcenter include Michael Simkins’ site — the Miami Innovation District property in Park West — and real estate investor Mitchell Newman’s property that is west of Worldcenter. If Amazon were to pick Worldcenter, it could extend into land owned by Simkins or other investors. Simkins’ assemblage also spans more than 10 acres in Park West with plans for an office campus that would offer floor plates as large as 200,000 square feet.
The 10 acres Motwani set aside for Amazon encompass Northeast 10th and 11th streets and First and Second avenues; and a majority of the block bordered by North Miami and Northeast First avenues, between Northwest Ninth and 10th streets.
For now though, work on Worldcenter, a joint venture between Motwani and Art Falcone with partners Dan Kodsi, CIM Group and others, continues. The complex includes Paramount Miami Worldcenter, a 562-unit luxury condo tower, along with about 450,000 square feet of high street retail, an 1,100-space parking garage and an apartment tower. A 1,700-room convention center hotel and an office tower are also slated to break ground this year.
Investors began buying in that Overtown area in the early 2000s. Land prices in the impoverished, predominantly African American community that is west of the railroad tracks has shot up to $150 a foot from just $80 a foot two years ago. On the east side of the tracks in Park West, land prices have more than tripled in the same period of time. Residents fear mass displacement.
All Aboard Florida is building its massive mixed-use development with office, retail and residential components in addition to the Brightline train station. Farther west, soccer star David Beckham is also planning to build his multimillion-dollar Major League Soccer stadium.
“Amazon or any company coming to Miami will have the decision to make,” Motwani said, referring to growing beyond his development site. “The school board has land, the Omni CRA has land.”
Amazon could work with multiple landowners or developers that have properties close to each other. In its request for proposals for HQ2, the company said it would consider existing buildings but would prioritize shovel-ready sites. The project’s first phase, slated to be completed in 2019, would call for at least 500,000 square feet. The completed complex, estimated to be ready in 2027, would span about 8 million square feet. Amazon is giving preference to sites with access to mass transit, in proximity to an international airport and major highways.
On that first criteria, Miami lags well behind its competitors – breakdowns, delays and limited routes plague the county’s public transportation system. Motwani acknowledged this handicap but pointed to Brightline, the high-speed rail connecting downtown Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and eventually Orlando, as one of the big selling points that South Florida used to pitch Amazon. The region, he noted, also has three international airports, research universities, and a diverse talent pool.
Miami Worldcenter is within walking distance of Brightline’s mixed-use station, which just completed its first building, Motwani said. It’s also on some of the highest land in the city of Miami, between 12 and 16 feet above sea level, providing some solace from the region’s sea-level rise problem. By 2060, sea levels could rise by as much as three feet, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
He noted that Amazon would also benefit from the more than $100 million in infrastructure improvements that are currently underway.
“We’ve got a good shot at landing Amazon and downtown Miami is the most logical location for their new campus in South Florida,” he said. “Miami didn’t make the cut for HQ2 simply because Jeff Bezos is from South Florida.”