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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Sep. 22, 201612:00 PM EST

Project Velo similar to Amazon.com; company seeking $8.3M in taxpayer incentives for 1,200-job distribution center

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First, Amazon.com announces 1,500 jobs for a fulfillment center in North Jacksonville.

Next, an unidentified leader “in the product distribution marketplace” is considering West Jacksonville for a 1,200-job hub.

If the latest project, code-named “Project Velo,” is supported by City Council, the two would create 2,700 warehouse, office and operations jobs just 23 miles apart no later than year-end 2019.

Could Project Velo be a second Amazon.com center? It’s not unusual for the Seattle-based e-commerce retailer to open two distribution facilities in one city to handle different products.

Amazon.com has not responded to an email about the center, and city and development officials are not commenting on the identity of Project Velo.

On Wednesday, city legislation was introduced to support incentives for Project Velo to create 1,200 jobs at a 1 million-square-foot product distribution center at AllianceFlorida at Cecil Commerce Center.

Of those jobs, 325 would pay an annual average salary of $50,675.

“It just continues to solidify Cecil Commerce Center as a destination that we can really continue to promote,” said Kirk Wendland, executive director of the city Office of Economic Development.

The city owns Cecil Commerce Center. Dallas-based Hillwood Investment Properties is the master developer.

Wendland would not comment about the identity of Project Velo, citing a confidentiality agreement.

Hillwood Senior Vice President Dan Tatsch declined comment.

Project Velo requests incentives of almost $8.3 million, comprising nearly $7.1 million from the city and $1.2 million from the state.

The company is considering Cecil as a distribution hub for its “diverse array of products” and plans to make a decision this year whether it will select the site for one of its distribution centers.

It anticipates an estimated capital investment of about $115 million in equipment, furniture, land and real estate improvements.

The bill, 2016-654, would be fast-tracked. It is scheduled to be introduced Tuesday. The bill would then be heard at the council committee level the week of Oct. 3 and, if approved, move for a full council vote Oct. 11.

The city would provide up to a $6.7 million Recapture Enhanced Value grant, a $200,000 training grant and a Qualified Target Industry Tax Refund of $195,000 for the 325 jobs.

The state would pay for the 80 percent QTI match of $780,000 and a $420,000 training grant.

According to the summary, the Cecil Commerce Center location will make jobs accessible to residents in some of Jacksonville’s high unemployment areas.

Cecil Commerce Center, a former naval air station, is south of Interstate 10 at Cecil Commerce Center Parkway and Normandy Boulevard.

“If you look at the region as a whole, I think the workforce will be there,” Wendland said.

Hillwood reported in June that during the first quarter, it had drawn up a layout for a facility of 850,000 square feet that could be expanded to 1 million square feet.

It was responding to a request for proposals from a broker representing a prospect.

Since then, Hillwood filed applications that outlined a 1,000-job, around-the-clock regional package facility for a national company. It would need 1,159 parking spaces for office and warehouse employees as well as truck and van drivers.

More employees would be needed on a seasonal basis.

The facility, at 13333 103rd St., would include 40,000 square feet of office space.

Hillwood wants to buy the 86-acre site for the project by mid-October. The legislation filed Wednesday said if the project moves forward, Hillwood would buy the property from the city for $8,819 an acre, or more than $758,000.

The site, known as Parcel C, is described as wooded and one that will require a large amount of infrastructure and fill material to accommodate the proposed facility.

Velo’s description sounds similar to Project Rex, Amazon.com’s code name on legislation adopted in April.

The North Jacksonville Amazon.com center, at 12900 Pecan Park Road just off of Interstate 295, will pick, pack and ship smaller consumer goods, such as books and consumer electronics.

In cities with more than one Amazon.com center, one typically handles smaller items while a second packs and ships larger items, such as kayaks, furniture and TVs.

The company also operates smaller “last mile” sortation centers that sort sealed packages for shipment for the final delivery to customers.

Compare Amazon.com and Project Velo:

• Amazon.com is building a $200 million fulfillment center that will create 1,500 jobs, of which 500 would pay an average of $50,000. Project Velo is a $115 million product distribution center with 1,200 jobs, of which 325 would pay $50,675.

• The North Jacksonville city and state incentives totaled $18.4 million, including a $5.5 million road grant. The Cecil total is $8.3 million, without a road grant.

• Project Velo is 1 million square feet, while Amazon.com is a footprint of 855,000 square feet but a total multilevel size of 2.4 million square feet.

• Both projects must create their jobs by year-end 2019. Both anticipate a high level of seasonal hiring. In fact, Amazon.com intends to open in time for the 2017 holiday shipping season.

• And both companies — Amazon.com and Project Velo — said the locations were among several under consideration for multiple centers. Amazon.com has been adding many centers this year, unlike other companies that might open one or a few at time.

After Amazon.com said in July it was opening the center in Jacksonville, the city’s interest in more of the company’s functions immediately became clear.

JAXUSA Partnership President Jerry Mallot said then the city was encouraging Amazon.com to pursue more regional projects. “Our work with them is not finished,” he said.

Mallot and other economic developers said in July that Amazon.com has been a seven-year recruitment effort.

[email protected]

@MathisKb

(904) 356-2466

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