By David Brand
Count Queens Borough President Melinda Katz among the local elected officials who see a prime opportunity to extract some concessions from Amazon — the borough’s newest resident — especially in the wake of large-scale opposition from city council members and community activists to the trove of state and city subsidies gifted to the online retail giant.
On Monday, Katz announced that Amazon — which is receiving roughly $3 billion to set up shop in Long Island City all while bypassing the city’s land use review process — has a duty to invest in its new home. In the same statement, Katz announced several proposals to overhaul and expand Queens’ transportation system.
“Amazon’s pick of Long Island City is a game-changer for Queens,” Katz said. “That said, the community’s significant concerns about capacity, equity and already-strained infrastructure needs are certainly valid, especially given the substantial tax incentives offered to Amazon.”
Katz, who has long advocated for the arrival of Amazon, specifically said that Amazon should help fund the proposed Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX) — her office repeatedly referred to as the Queens-Brooklyn Connector (QBX).
“A substantial and meaningful investment by Amazon that helps ensure the feasibility of [the BQX] would be a fair investment into its new home and a welcome opportunity for a good corporate neighbor to directly benefit the existing, impacted communities of Western Queens,” Katz said. “The company and the public sector must work together to make investments in necessary transit improvements that will support Queens residents”.
In the same announcement, Katz called for the BQX to include a free transfer to MTA subways and buses and adopt the “Fair Fares” model to better integrate the project into the existing transit system and to make it affordable for lower-income New Yorkers.
The BQX, which will receive substantial funding from real estate developers, has been criticized as a project designed for wealthier waterfront residents and a vehicle for further gentrification and displacement.
She also said the city should develop more municipal parking lots and that MTA should rehab two underused Long Island Railroad stations to reduce congestion.
“Finally, to help alleviate overcrowding on our subway lines, the ‘Long Island City’ and ‘Hunterspoint Avenue’ LIRR stations should become full-time stations with enhanced service,” she said.
Katz announced the proposals as the City Council prepares for a series of hearings about Amazon’s arrival. The corporation, one of the wealthiest in the world, was able to avoid the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP) because the project is being shepherded by the state under a controversial urban renewal program known as the General Project Plan. The Plan enables the state to steer projects in “blighted” areas.
Appearing on the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC on Friday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said he would hold Amazon accountable to fund vital infrastructure improvements and suspend their incentives. De Blasio has championed Amazon’s pledge to add thousands of new jobs to Long Island City and has downplayed concerns about displacement.
“My job is to hold them to every element of what’s been agreed to so far,” de Blasio said. “Public space that they’ll make available, promenade, a public school building, training programs for folks in public housing, recruitment efforts, all of that.”
“Remember if at any point they do not keep to any element of the deal then all of the incentives are suspended,” he continued. “So job one is make sure that they keep their end of the deal. The second is to go farther, to look for opportunities to get Amazon to do more for the people of Queens, and the people of New York City. More job opportunities, more training, any other community improvements we can make. I think there’s a lot they could do for the community. Our job is to push them to go farther.”