Will South Florida’s transit woes doom Amazon HQ2 bid?

By Debora Loma – Reporter, South Florida Business Journal
December 11, 2017

SFBJ

South Florida’s bid for Amazon HQ2 has a lot to offer: Zero state-income tax. More than 2,000 daily flights at airports. A multilingual population that could rival Europe’s most diverse nations.

And that’s not all. The bid offers up no fewer than eight sites in South Florida that local officials say could accommodate the first Amazon (Nasdaq: AMZN) headquarters outside of Seattle.

“I’m optimistic,” said Michael Finney, president and CEO of the Miami-Dade Beacon Council, the county’s public-private economic development agency. “We submitted a proposal that met all of the requirements, and that gets us closer to a point where we could begin negotiations.”

But as Amazon draws closer to deciding which of 238 cities bidding for HQ2 will make its shortlist, some locals wonder whether the region’s nightmarish traffic will doom South Florida’s chances.

The city that gets Amazon HQ2, as it’s come to be known, will also get 50,000 new commuters trying to make their way to work every day. In a region already lacking an efficient mass transit system, the influx of commuters would be overwhelming.

“If Amazon would like a good transit experience wherever they land these headquarters, then we are challenged,” said Esteban Bovo, chairman of the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners. “To say anything else would be disingenuous. It would be misleading.”

Indeed, most handicappers put South Florida out of the race.

Of eight analyses by credible organizations ranging from financial institutions to the data research arms of national news outlets, four discount South Florida cities from their rankings.

Of the four that do mention the region, only two project it favorably among their indices’ Top 10.

In no particular order, the New York Times ranked Miami as one of the ten strongest contenders for HQ2, while credit ratings agency Moody’s ranked Miami No. 8, ahead of Portland, Boston and Salt Lake City, Utah. Both analyses dinged the city for its weak transit and gridlock.

But in an interview with the Business Journal, Finney said that the region’s strengths outweigh its challenges, and other major cities vying for the headquarters also struggle with gridlock.

According to an analysis by the Beacon Council, the average commute time in the Miami MSA takes 29.6 minutes, compared to 29.8 minutes in Philadelphia, 32.1 in Atlanta and 34.8 in Washington DC.

“It seems worse here because we’re here and we’re living it,” Finney said.
Beyond addressing the traffic issue, Finney wouldn’t provide details of the bid. Though it includes public subsidies, the proposal, which was jointly submitted as part of a regional effort among the Beacon Council and its counterparts in Broward and Palm Beach, is being kept under wraps.

Public records requests submitted by the Business Journal for emails and records pertaining to the bid, filed with the boards of county commissioners in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach, returned no relevant materials.

Sources said those involved in the bid were careful not too put much in the public domain. Economic development agencies, which function independently as public-private agencies, are not subject to requests pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act.

But documents obtained by the Business Journal give a glimpse into the highlights of the region’s proposal.

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