LIC Leaders Sound Off On Amazon Arrival

By David Brand and Jonathan Sperling

Amazon HQ2 is coming to Long Island City, but local leaders are telling CEO Jeff Bezos to buzz off.

The conglomerate — which operates an online retail giant, streaming platform and vast data repository — announced it will locate two new headquarters in Long Island City and Crystal City in Northern Virginia. The decision has been condemned as “corporate welfare” for a company led by Bezos, the world’s richest person, and a drain on local resources by community groups and local lawmakers.

 Map courtesy of Amazon

Map courtesy of Amazon

A source familiar with the planned development confirmed that Amazon will build the campus at 44th Drive between the East River and Vernon Boulevard.

The source also told the Eagle that the area encompasses most of the Long Island City Innovation Center proposal, the Department of Education building and some of the Plaxall development, near Anable Basin.

Previously, Margaret Waterman, an Amazon spokesperson, told the Eagle in an email that Amazon’s new campus, “will be around Anable Basin” but did not offer any further details.

When asked about the new headquarters’ effect on the local community, Waterman referred to Amazon’s official blog post.

Community organizations Make the Road New York, Align and New York Communities for Change (NYCC) have partnered with State Sen. Michael Gianaris and Councilmember Van Bramer to organize a rally at Gordon Triangle in Long Island City on Wednesday at 11:30.

In a joint statement, Gianaris and Van Bramer said they have “serious reservations” about the Amazon deal, especially the tax breaks that will reportedly exceed $1 billion.

“Offering massive corporate welfare from scarce public resources to one of the wealthiest corporations in the world at a time of great need in our state is just wrong,” Van Bramer and Gianaris said. “The burden should not be on the 99 percent to prove we are worthy of the 1 percent’s presence in our communities, but rather on Amazon to prove it would be a responsible corporate neighbor.

The pair of lawmakers said they oppose any project that “circumvents community review” and questioned the impact on existing infrastructure from a project expected to attract tens of thousands of new employees and residents.  

Earlier this month, the city announced a $180 million infrastructure improvement project for the area that some residents and experts speculate was designed to accommodate Amazon’s arrival. The project will improve roadways and sewer systems, which are already strained by surging population growth in what was once a mostly industrial neighborhood.

“We were not elected to serve as Amazon drones, Gianaris and Van Bramer said. “It is incumbent upon us to stand up on behalf of the people we represent and that is what we intend to do.”

Last week NYCC Director Jonathan Westin also criticized the reported deal, which has been championed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio have handled the negotiations with Amazon all wrong, Westin said. “Instead of rolling out the orange carpet for Amazon, Cuomo and de Blasio should be extracting concessions that would benefit struggling residents in Queens.”

Westin proposed charging “a gentrification tax to offset the negative impact of rising rents and lost small businesses the company will cause in Long Island City.”

“And they should demand that Amazon hire a significant number of local residents, with a preference for public housing residents in nearby NYCHA developments in Queens,” he said.