County accepts state's offer to help build new Southcom facility
By Samantha Joseph
Miami-Dade commissioners have endorsed an offer by Gov. Jeb Bush to build a large high-end office building for US Southern Command, a major military operation in Doral.
The state would invest about $12 million to keep Southcom in Miami-Dade, where it contributes about $318 million a year to the economy.
The command center covers all US military activity in Latin America and combines all branches of the armed forces. It directly employs 1,554 and generates about 10,000 jobs.
Florida's deal offers Southcom plush offices to consolidate its scattered operations and work from its primary base in Doral.
A 300,000- to 400,000-square-foot building would sit on 40 state-owned acres beside the command's current headquarters.
Southcom could lease the property for up to 50 years at rates the governor's office estimates would fall at least $5 per square foot below market value.
"It's a good deal for both the state and the Department of Defense - a very good deal," said Pamella Dana, director of Florida's Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development.
Southcom operates out of a privately owned building that is too small to accommodate its staff.
The lease expires in February 2008, by which time local officials hope to have built the new offices the governor offered.
"The property they have right now is a leased property, and that's not looked upon very favorably," said Commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz, who spearheaded local government support of the deal. "It's in our best interest that we work hard so Southcom does not go anywhere else."
The current arrangement worried many who felt Florida would lose the lucrative base to a competing state.
Last week's local endorsement of the governor's proposal won praise from economic development groups such as the Beacon Council and chambers of commerce, which have long urged greater public support for Southcom.
"Obviously, they're a very significant presence for Miami-Dade," said Beacon Council President and CEO Frank Nero. "One only has to look at the fact that so many locales are vying feverishly to get them to relocate."
The command's presence supports Miami's stake as the gateway of the Americas, he said, and indirectly boosts its goal of winning the headquarters of the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas.
"It speaks volumes that Southcom is located here for logistics reasons," he said.
Southcom officials have not responded to the governor's offer, saying a decision would have to come from Congress and the secretary of defense.
"The United States Southern Command is happy and grateful for the support of the South Florida community," spokesman Mike Whitlock said Tuesday. "We believe that Miami is the best location to support our mission in Central, South America and the Caribbean."