May 17, 2019 3:00 PM, EDT

Amazon Proposes Airfreight Hub in Florida

Amazon packages on conveyor beltKen James/Bloomberg News

LAKELAND, Fla. — Amazon is looking to make a more than $100 million investment in Lakeland.

Gene Conrad, director of Lakeland Linder International Airport, asked city commissioners to approve a deal with Amazon to construct a 285,000-square-foot air cargo complex. It will bring approximately 800 to 1,000 jobs to the area.

“This is a game-changer for the airport,” he said.

Conrad said Amazon first contacted him and City Manager Tony Delgado in December 2017.

Control tower at Lakeland, Fla., airport

Control tower at Lakeland Linder by Gene Arty/Flickr.

“I couldn’t believe I got a call,” Conrad said. “We really felt like they belonged here as we sit right here in the middle of the state. It made the most sense to send cargo here.”

The 20-year deal will allow Amazon to lease a 47.2-acre parcel of land to construct a seven-jet cargo hangar, with an option to later expand on an adjoining 62 acres. The company will pay the city approximately $80,000 a month, with the option to renew the lease three times at 10 years each, for a total of 50 years. If Amazon exercises the option to expand, it can do so on the same rate and terms as the initial contract, according to city attorney Tim McCausland.

Amazon also would pay the airport 85 cents per 1,000 pounds of cargo landed at the airport, and a 3-cent surcharge per gallon of fuel.

For its part of the deal, the airport is expected to upgrade the landing systems, add five fuel tanks and improve one of the runways.

Conrad said he also anticipates possibly adding turning lanes to Drane Field Road once Polk County officials have had a chance to fully review the project’s traffic study. He doesn’t anticipate the facility will have any major traffic impact.

“There are warehouses being built everywhere,” he said. “There will be several shifts. It won’t be that everyone shows up at one time. The amount of employees will be spread throughout the course of the day.”

According to county documents, of the potential 1,000 jobs, 75 would meet the minimum salary requirements for certain state, county and city-funded incentives.

The facility would be designed to accommodate up to five cargo transport aircraft, according to a city memo describing the project and deal.

Since 2015, the city has invested upward of $20 million and received more than $100 million in grants from the Florida Department of Transportation, some to prepare the northwest parcel now eyed by Amazon for development. Originally, the city had hoped to host a major jet maintenance facility on the site.

During the same time, Lakeland Linder has expanded its services by adding a U.S. Customs and Border Protection office — making Lakeland Linder an international airport for international passenger flights. That facility and agreement with the federal government will need to be expanded to handle international freight if Amazon intends to use the facility as a national point of entry.

“The big enticement for them to us was we were already moving on the site and had done much of the legwork,” Conrad said. “When they started looking, we were already working so they are able to move faster.”

Amazon could not immediately be reached for comment. The company has had a presence in Lakeland since 2014 when it opened a 1 million-square-foot fulfillment center on County Line Road.

City Commissioners will vote on the airport deal May 20 at their regularly scheduled meeting.

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