Amazon is rethinking its move to Long Island City

February 8, 2019

After facing months of intense backlash from residents and local officials, Amazon is rethinking its plan to open a massive complex in the Queens neighborhood of Long Island City, the Washington Post reported on Friday. Sources told the newspaper, which is owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, that executives at the tech company have had discussions to reassess the plan to open its “HQ2” in New York City. “The question is whether it’s worth it if the politicians in New York don’t want the project, especially with how people in Virginia and Nashville have been so welcoming,” a source told the Post.

Amazon announced last November its plan to split its headquarters between Long Island City and Arlington, Virginia, with each site expected to house 25,000 employees. Plans released by Amazon and city and state officials included the construction of a mixed-use complex along the East River, across an area known as Anable Basin.

The opposition to Amazon’s move from local politicians and advocacy groups came swiftly after learning that the city and state offered the company–the most valuable in the world–nearly $3 billion in grants and incentives.

On top of that, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the state would create a general project plan to rezone the site, a process that does not require approval from the City Council. Members criticized Mayor Bill de Blasio and Cuomo for meeting with Amazon and reaching a deal behind closed doors.

In response, the Council has held a series of hearings to grill both Amazon officials and those from the city’s Economic Development Corporation. The most recent hearing revealed that Amazon would oppose efforts by its NYC workforce to unionize.

Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, a representative of LIC and vocal opponent of the plan, called Amazon “dramatically anti-union” following the hearing in a WNYC interview. “That’s not a New York value,” he added. “We can’t crave.”

And another roadblock Amazon faces? Sen. Michael Gianaris, the Queens representative who was recently nominated by the State Senate to serve on the Public Authorities Control Board, the entity which must approve the Amazon plan. Gianaris has called for the deal with Amazon to be scrapped entirely. “Amazon may be rich, but Jeff Bezos can’t buy his way to victory on this one. Sorry, Jeff, you can’t have our $3 billion,” he wrote in a tweet last month.

While no official plan to ditch Queens and find an alternative city is underway, Amazon has not officially leased or purchased any space in Long Island City for the project, which would make it easier to withdraw from the plan. The company had plans to temporarily lease over one million square feet of office space at One Court Square in LIC this year.

During the most recent hearing, Amazon rebutted concerns from officials by discussing its proposal to fund computer science classes at 130 high schools in the city as well as hire 30 New Yorkers living at NYCHA developments for customer service positions. Queensbridge Houses, the largest public housing development in the country sits next to the proposed Amazon site and is home to about 6,000 residents.

“We were invited to come to New York, and we want to invest in a community that wants us,” Brian Huseman, the vice president for public policy at Amazon, said during the Council hearing last month.

He also added, as reported by the New York Times, that the company wanted to “be part of the growth of a community where our employees and our company are welcome.”

During an unrelated event on Friday, Cuomo responded to the Post article, calling the State Senate’s opposition “malpractice.” “I’ve never seen a more absurd situation where political pandering and obvious pandering so defeats a bonafide economic development project,” the governor said.

“And if they stop Amazon from coming to New York, they’re going to have the people of New York State to explain it to,” Cuomo said. “It is irresponsible to allow political opposition to overcome sound government policy.”

[Via Washington Post]


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