By David Brand
Amazon has canceled the deal to develop a corporate campus in Long Island City after encountering significant pressure from local community organizations and lawmakers who did not have a hand in negotiations.
"After much thought and deliberation, we’ve decided not to move forward with our plans to build a headquarters for Amazon in Long Island City, Queens,” said Amazon spokeswoman Jodi Seth in a post on the company’s blog. “For Amazon, the commitment to build a new headquarters requires positive, collaborative relationships with state and local elected officials who will be supportive over the long-term.”
After a yearlong campaign to find a location for its so-called “HQ2” campus, Amazon — an online retailer and vast data repository — decided to split the project into two facilities in Long Island City and Northern Virginia. Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the deal, which included nearly $3 billion in state and city subsidies, in November.
Cuomo, de Blasio and Amazon said the project would bring 25,000 jobs to Long Island City. The loss of those jobs blindsided local business leaders who did not learn about the cancellation of the deal until Thursday morning.
"No words in this moment can convey the sadness and dismay at the loss of this historic opportunity,” Queens Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas Grech told the Eagle. “I’ve never been involved with a more professional, diligent and transparent bunch of individuals than the Amazon Community Advisory Committee. An entire generation will look back at these last few months and ask us, ‘Why?’ I hope those that oppose this Amazon deal have the answers to what we lost today. Queens is one of the best places for a tech firm or for any forward-looking business to expand into with our diverse talent pool entrepreneurial spirit, thriving arts scene and boundless energy. It is a shame to lose the opportunity, investment and jobs that Amazon offered, but there are many more ways for businesses in queens to thrive and we’ll be welcoming them with open arms."
“The effort that people like me, the lengths we go to to keep a company with 25, 50, 100 employees from leaving or going somewhere else are rarely measured,” he continued. “The fact that we lost 25,000 jobs because of a vocal small, and I mean small, opposition is beyond belief.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio chided Amazon for not listening to the concerns of the community and instead, pulling up roots.
“You have to be tough to make it in New York City. We gave Amazon the opportunity to be a good neighbor and do business in the greatest city in the world. Instead of working with the community, Amazon threw away that opportunity,” de Blasio said in a statement. “We have the best talent in the world and every day we are growing a stronger and fairer economy for everyone. If Amazon can’t recognize what that’s worth, its competitors will.”
Queens Borough President Melinda Katz and early proponent of the deal walked back her support in a statement Thursday.
“We all want jobs to come to Queens, and Amazon used the promise of job creation to extract major concessions for this project. But after last month’s City Council hearing, it became increasingly clear that they had no intentions of being good neighbors and committing to the required negotiations,” Katz said. “They rejected our values of supporting working people and were unwilling to work with our local communities toward a mutually beneficial resolution. New York has the best tech work force in the nation, much of which is here in Queens, so if Amazon wants to take their jobs somewhere else with a lesser work force so they can undercut wages and workers’ rights, that’s their choice
The development would have been shepherded by the state’s Empire Development Corporation, allowing the project to sidestep the city council and local community board Uniform Land Use Review Process. Opponents contended that Amazon would lead to increased housing prices and displace local residents.
State Sen. Michael Gianaris, Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer and a coalition of community groups in Western Queens led the opposition to the opaque deal and called on Amazon to renegotiate, undergo community review or leave.
Earlier this month, State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins appointed Gianaris to a state board with the power to veto the deal.
“Like a petulant child, Amazon insists on getting its way or takes its ball and leaves," Gianaris said immediately after Amazon cancelled the deal, according to the New York Times.
“Today’s behavior by Amazon shows why they would have been a bad partner for New York in any event,” he added in a statement later in the afternoon. “Rather than seriously engage with the community they proposed to profoundly change, Amazon continued its effort to shakedown governments to get its way. It is time for a national dialogue about the perils of these types of corporate subsidies.”
The deal split the city’s labor unions, with construction unions, like 32BJ supporting the project, while others, including the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) criticized the deal, citing Amazon’s resistance to organized labor.
“Rather than addressing the legitimate concerns that have been raised by many New Yorkers Amazon says you do it our way or not at all, we will not even consider the concerns of New Yorkers – that’s not what a responsible business would do,” said RWDSU spokesperson Chelsea Connor.
Other opponents condemned Amazon for marketing facial recognition technology to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Jeremy Rosenberg, a member of Queens Community Board 2 and a vocal Amazon opponent, said the city and state could use the subsidies it saved on the Amazon deal to fund public housing, subways and local businesses.
“Amazon made this call and decided they’d rather be anti-union and ICE-complicit than change bad business practices,” Rosenberg said. “This is a step in the right direction in combating economic inequities that hurt working people in Queens. Now let’s invest in NYCHA, the subway and small family owned businesses.”
A coalition of community organizations, including Make the Road New York and New York Communities for Change celebrated the decision to pull out of the deal.
“New Yorkers just delivered a Valentine’s day message to Amazon: It's not us, it's you. We applaud the news that Amazon is pulling out of HQ2. This victory is a clear demonstration of the power of workers and communities across Queens and New York who came together and are fighting for a city that works for us and not for billionaires like Bezos. We will continue fighting for real investment for good jobs, affordable housing, NYCHA, and transit in our communities and we will continue to stand in solidarity and support of other cities and communities facing Amazon and Bezos's bullying tactics.”
Amazon also played a key role in the race for public advocate. Two prominent Queens leaders running for the seat stood on opposite sides of the debate.
“It never ceases to amaze me how the loud voices of a few, could destroy the chance at a better life for so many,” said Councilmember Eric Ulrich in a statement. “Amazon had big plans in store for the borough of Queens, and we blew it! They were going to invest in our future, hire locally, contribute to the community, and make the greatest city in the world even greater. I doubt the NIMBYS have another company willing to create 25,000 good paying jobs. This sets a bad precedent moving forward and will deter other companies from setting up shop in our city.”
But Flushing Assemblymember Ron Kim hailed the community pressure that motivated Amazon to cancel the project.
“This is a huge victory for the grassroots activists and community leaders who spoke out with one collective voice to say no to Amazon,” Kim said. “The $3 billion taxpayer giveaway was unconscionable especially in the midst of an affordable housing crisis and a crumbling public transportation system which impacts virtually every resident of New York City.”