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Business Observer Friday, Feb. 22, 2019 1 year ago

Homebuilder courts longshot economic development prize

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Carlos Beruff takes another shot at wooing Amazon to Manatee County.

Longtime successful homebuilder Carlos Beruff isn’t a gambler, per se, but he has a fondness for long shots.

That’s why, for the second time, he’s going after the biggest economic development prize in years: Amazon.

His latest tactic is a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal, a move to capitalize on Amazon’s issues moving forward with an expansion on Long Island City, in Queens, N.Y.  The ad — which cost $42,000 and ran Feb. 21 — started with a call to action for Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. “Amazon, you’re Big!!” states the ad. “Mr. Bezos, you think big. Why build a campus…build a city!!!

The ad goes on to say Manatee County, if Amazon expands there, “will roll out the red carpet” and provide some good old-fashioned Southern hospitality.  A onetime candidate in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate, Beruff knows the odds are against him in the attempt to woo Amazon. “I have no illusions. I’m not holding my breath,” Beruff tells Coffee Talk. “But you have to take a shot every once in a while. You never know…”

In 2017, when the behemoth online retailer announced a national sweepstakes for its expansion project, what the Seattle company called HQ2, Beruff made a bid. While not a government incentive-laden package, Beruff offered 935 acres in north Manatee County, on the Manatee-Hillsborough County line, just off Interstate 75. He bought the land for about $5 million in 2013. “We can build a city for them here,” Beruff told the Business Observer in October 2017, when he submitted the first bid, echoing his recent ad.  

Amazon, of course, initially chose New York and Washington, D.C. for HQ2. Amazon then backed out of New York, citing criticism from some politicians and residents over $3 billion in tax breaks the state and city used to lure the company in the first place. Amazon, instead, said it would focus on the D.C. project and expand in Nashville, too.

Beruff says the ad isn’t a slap at New York, but the vocal minority there who he says misunderstand the difference between economic development/job creation and corporate welfare. Landing Amazon, no matter how much of a long shot, is the former, says Beruff. That thought went through his head when he woke up one morning, soon after the New York-Amazon pullout made national news. Getting ready for work, pre-dawn, he started thinking about the ad.

While Amazon founder Jeff Bezos might not be ringing up Beruff anytime soon, the ad had some incidental benefits. For one, Beruff heard from a slew of friends and colleagues, including one friend from Miami. He hadn’t heard from her in a few years, until early in the morning the day the ad ran she texted him a picture of it with the note, “friggin beautiful.”

Also, several media outlets contacted Beruff for interviews after the ad ran, including the Bradenton Herald, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Tampa Bay Times and a Tampa Fox affiliate. So in that way, at least it’s a boost for Beruff’s Medallion Homes, which did $118 million in sales in 2018. Says Beruff: “I’m having a lot of fun with this.”

 

 

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