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Permit sparks rumor of Amazon warehouse in Lakeland

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Published:   |   Updated: September 28, 2013 at 09:26 AM

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TAMPA — A new building permit issued in Lakeland is fueling speculation that Amazon will build two warehouses in the greater Tampa Bay area, not just one in Ruskin.

On Sept. 19, contractor Conlan Co. pulled a building permit in Lakeland to do land clearing on the site of a proposed Amazon warehouse, called a fulfillment center. The Polk County Commission has been trying to persuade the online retailer to build on 117 acres along County Line Road, offering it $4.5 million in tax incentives as an enticement.

The building permit doesn’t actually mention Amazon, but some evidence points to the company.

For example, the limited liability company that owns the County Line Road property in question shares an address with insurance giant USAA’s real estate division, state corporation records show. That’s significant because USAA is a frequent landlord for Amazon and has developed or owned at least a half-dozen Amazon warehouses nationwide.

USAA also appears to be involved in a proposed Amazon warehouse in Ruskin that would employ as many as 1,000 people. Hillsborough County commissioners are trying to lure Amazon to open inside the South Shore Corporate Park near Interstate 75 and State Road 674.

Last month, a contractor applied for a few Hillsborough County building permits on the Ruskin site, including a permit to build a 1-million-square-foot warehouse. Again, USAA’s real estate division was listed as the property’s owner in the building permits.

Hillsborough land records show a Minnesota-based real estate firm called Ryan Cos. still owns the Ruskin land. However, USAA may be in the process of buying the land from Ryan.

A local Ryan Cos. executive wouldn’t comment, but did say it’s common for someone buying land to begin the permitting process even before a sale has closed.

The local commercial real estate industry is buzzing with gossip that Amazon will build in both Lakeland and Ruskin. And, in fact, the online retailer has built multiple warehouses in a single market before. It ships small items out of one warehouse and large items out of the other.

Such is the case in Tennessee, where Amazon built a fulfillment center in Lebanon and another 30 miles away in Murfreesboro.

It’s possible Amazon will kill the Lakeland or Ruskin projects, or both, said Bill Eshenbaugh, a prominent Tampa land broker not involved in the deal. But the fact that contractors are pulling permits in both places is very suggestive, he said.

“I think you can read into it that it’s very likely going to happen,” Eshenbaugh said.

msasso@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7865

Twitter: @msasso

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