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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Mar. 10, 201612:00 PM EST

Amazon.com resurfaces as rumored Jacksonville prospect

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Ernst & Young, Fidelity National Information Services Inc. and BMW announced significant Jacksonville expansions the past week, and legislation was filed Tuesday to recruit Project Star.

There appears to be more on the way.

Without elaborating on identities, Mayor Lenny Curry said last week that economic-development recruitment continues.

“We have some real solid projects,” he said after the Ernst & Young announcement.

Could Amazon.com be one?

It was considered a potential prospect in 2013 when the Seattle-based Internet retailer chose two Florida sites for 1-million-square-foot fulfillment centers and the company continues to expand across the country and internationally.

Amazon.com has not responded to phone calls or emails for comment the past week about interest in Jacksonville.

The order-filling centers are part of the company’s efforts to provide next-day and same-day delivery for customers.

Gov. Rick Scott announced in June 2013 the company proposed to create more than 3,000 full-time jobs and invest more than $300 million in Florida by the end of 2016.

Amazon.com announced its Florida locations in October 2013 and opened fulfillment centers in 2014 in Lakeland and near Tampa, together employing 2,000 workers.

Jacksonville did not formally bid on the centers, which received state and local incentives in their areas.

The Orlando Sentinel reported in August the company was adding 2,000 more jobs at the two centers.

One of the earliest indications that Amazon.com might be interested in Jacksonville was in a first-quarter 2013 report to the city by Hillwood Investment Properties, the master developer of the AllianceFlorida at Cecil Commerce Center business park.

In the report for January-March 2013, Hillwood said: “Continued our discussions with a confidential prospect for an e-commerce distribution center of approximately 1,000,000 sf.”

By the third quarter of 2013, Hillwood included the reference to the unnamed prospect in its report but specified “we believe this requirement to not be a near-term requirement, but we remain engaged with the client on a regular basis in case their timing changes.”

Hillwood’s specific references to an e-commerce prospect ended in mid-2014.

There also was discussion in 2013 that Amazon.com was interested in other sites, including along the Interstate 295 West Beltway.

Amazon.com speculation was quiet again until recent months.

Hillwood’s third-quarter report delivered to the city in December said the city was interested in identifying a site at AllianceFlorida for a 1-million-square-foot distribution center from an undisclosed prospect related to a regional search.

Hillwood also said it received and responded to an initial inquiry from a broker representing a prospect seeking 500,000 to 1 million square feet of distribution space.

At the time, city Office of Economic Development Executive Director Kirk Wendland said he could not disclose the prospect’s identity and said Jacksonville was one of many sites it was reviewing.

Asked then if Amazon.com might be looking at Jacksonville, Wendland said it was his understanding the company is always looking for sites.

“We are certainly always interested, but that is about all I can say,” he said then.

This week, city spokeswoman Tia Ford said “there is no information to provide at this time.”

Hillwood Senior Vice President Dan Tatsch said this week the million-square-foot prospect was not identified “and, consistent with my longstanding practice, I wouldn’t disclose the name of the prospect even if I knew it.”

Tatsch said he had heard the rumor that Amazon.com might be looking at the Jacksonville market, “and I emphasize the word ‘rumor.’”

“Amazon’s name is frequently being tossed about in the rumor mill, not just in Jacksonville but in other markets as well. So I tend to start from a position of skepticism every time I hear the Amazon name being attached to an undisclosed prospect,” Tatsch said.

The JAX Chamber said it could not comment.

Amazon.com Inc., the world’s top Internet retailer, opened online in 1995.

It does not list the number or locations of its fulfillment centers on its website and its SEC filings don’t outline future locations, but it continues to grow.

An industrial real estate blog reported in early 2015 that Amazon.com had at least 50 operational centers in at least 21 U.S. states.

Over the past seven months, Amazon.com has opened or announced centers in several more states for sites from 500,000 to 1 million square feet.

For example, it announced plans for centers in Illinois and in Fall River, Mass., and said it would open two centers in Ohio.

As Tatsch emphasized, any expectation about Amazon.com reviewing Jacksonville is rumor, but it likely will continue as the giant online retailer expands its services and announces new sites — and as the city deals with large, unidentified prospects.

[email protected]

@MathisKb

(904) 356-2466

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