Chiquita's rejection raises concerns about land scarcity
By Claudio Mendonça
With Chiquita Brands International deciding to keep its world headquarters in Cincinnati instead of moving to South Florida, office space specialists worry that other large multinationals won't settle in Miami because the region lacks space and land prices are too high.
Chiquita, one of the world's largest banana producers, had thought of moving its headquarters to a 100,000-square-foot site in Sunrise and using Port Everglades as a shipping point. But officials decided to stay in the Midwest, at least for now.
Besides Sunrise, Chiquita had been eying Atlanta and Miami, but lack of adequate space eliminated Miami in the early rounds.
"The truth is that right now, Miami-Dade County does not have a place where actually a company that big can come in," said Dale Graham, senior vice president of the Allen Morris Co., a specialist in commercial real estate.
Jack Lowell, vice chairman of Codina Realty Inc., said he believes South Florida lost Chiquita because of lack of land availability and its high cost.
"I think that they felt land was expensive," said Mr. Lowell. He said he believes the multinational might have received some economic incentives from local or state government to stay in Cincinnati.
More optimistic is Beacon Council President Frank Nero, who said that in 12-15 months, Miami-Dade will have numerous 100,000-square-foot facilities that could house an incoming giant like Chiquita. Some are already rising, he said, in downtown, Beacon Lakes, Beacon Station and Doral.
"We are disappointed that they did not choose South Florida," said Mr. Nero, who heads Miami-Dade County's economic development agency. "But the reality is that we would only have a facility ready for Chiquita in 15 months and not by the fall, as they desired."
Public officials can offer to build a site for a major newcomer, Mr. Graham said, though it would take at least two years to complete a facility.
To retain Burger King's global headquarters, Mr. Graham said, the public sector provided space so the fast-food giant could construct buildings. "We can do it, but we have to buy land. But still, building would take at least two years," Mr. Graham said.
Chiquita might have preferred to stay in Ohio, Mr. Graham said, because land prices are lower than in Miami-Dade or Broward counties.
"The proliferation of the residential luxury condo market has driven land prices higher than developers can buy," he said. "Developers need to find affordable land to construct office buildings that make sense. Competition is greater for office space here in South Florida. Right now is a great time to sell, not a good time to buy."
The short-term solution, he said, may be to create clusters of infill land that "sooner or later can accommodate development."