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Ruskin building permits hint at Amazon site

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Published:   |   Updated: September 20, 2013 at 06:41 AM

TAMPA — One of Amazon’s biggest landlords, an affiliate of insurer USAA, has applied for building permits for a 1.1 million square-foot warehouse in Ruskin, on the same land where the online retailer has proposed a 1,000-person warehouse.

The fact that USAA is pulling permits doesn’t necessarily prove that Amazon will build there. And, in fact, an executive involved in the deal insists nothing has been finalized.

However, the permits at least suggest the online retailer is seriously considering the site and has started preparing for it. Hillsborough County commissioners and economic development officials have been trying to convince Amazon to open a distribution center locally instead of elsewhere in Florida.

In that pursuit, the state and county are dangling several million dollars in tax incentives at Amazon to persuade it.

Everyone involved in the proposed deal has been tight-lipped since Amazon first revealed it was eyeing Florida in June. Its new warehouses would help Amazon ship packages to customers’ houses much faster than it can now.

Amazon is considering opening such a facility inside the South Shore Corporate Park near Interstate 75 and State Road 674, but so far the company has been noncommittal and has reviewed other potential sites as well, including a site along County Line Road in Lakeland.

For now, the Ruskin property is owned by a Minnesota-based real estate firm called the Ryan Cos.

Hillsborough County records suggested things are moving along behind the scenes.

In late August, U.S. Real Estate LP, the real estate arm of San Antonio, Texas-based USAA, applied for at least four building permits at South Shore Corporate Park. One of the applications seeks permission to build a 1.1 million square-foot warehouse.

The permit records don’t mention Amazon. However, articles from various news sources nationwide report USAA owns or has developed at least a half dozen Amazon distribution centers in the country.

In fact, Polk County records show USAA recently purchased the land in Lakeland where Amazon also is considering a warehouse.

While the building permits in Ruskin are suggestive, a representative of South Shore Corporate Park’s current owner, Ryan Cos., insisted no deal for an Amazon warehouse has been signed yet.

But Hillsborough County permit documents list USAA — not Ryan Cos. — as the warehouse property’s owner. Doug Dieck, president of Ryan Cos.’ southeast region, wouldn’t comment about whether his company is planning to sell its land to USAA.

Generally speaking, Dieck said it’s not unusual for a company that is considering buying land to get the current owner’s permission to start the building permit process.

In recent weeks, some in Tampa’s real estate industry have speculated that Amazon would build two distribution centers in the Tampa Bay area, not just one.

Amazon built two giant warehouses in the same region before. In Tennessee, Amazon opened a 600-employee warehouse in Lebanon and a 1,000-person warehouse 30 miles away in Murfreesboro, said G.C. Hixson, an economic development official in Wilson County, Tenn.

The online retailer often has one distribution center for small items and another center for large goods.

If Amazon chooses to build in Ruskin, it could be eligible for up to $1.125 million in tax refunds from the county and state, with the county’s portion of that only $225,000. Also, Hillsborough County has approved giving Amazon a tax break worth $6.4 million over seven years.

msasso@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7865

Twitter: @msasso

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