Feb. 14, 2019 By Nathaly Pesantez
Amazon has pulled out of its plans to build a campus in Long Island City, the company said today in a bombshell announcement.
The e-commerce giant released a lengthy statement on its blog earlier this morning that said the reasoning was tied to the opposition the project faced since the official HQ2 announcement in November.
“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,” the statement reads.
Amazon referred to polls that showed strong support for the Anable Basin campus and the deal that brought it to the table, but said the staunch opposition, especially by state and local politicians, made it clear that the project was doomed.
“We are disappointed to have reached this conclusion—we love New York, its incomparable dynamism, people, and culture—and particularly the community of Long Island City, where we have gotten to know so many optimistic, forward-leaning community leaders, small business owners, and residents,” the company said.
Amazon thanked Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, who supported the project from the start and consistently spoke to the benefits the campus would bring to New York’s economic livelihood and vitality.
“Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio have worked tirelessly on behalf of New Yorkers to encourage local investment and job creation, and we can’t speak positively enough about all their efforts.” Amazon said. “The steadfast commitment and dedication that these leaders have demonstrated to the communities they represent inspired us from the very beginning and is one of the big reasons our decision was so difficult.”
The company said it does not intend to reopen the HQ2 search at this time, and will proceed with new offices as planned in Virginia and Nashville.
The stunning reversal comes after a Washington Post story was published late last week that said the company, per two sources, was reconsidering its decision to locate to Long Island City because of steadfast opposition.
The project has been rejected by several activist groups, many based in Queens, that organized heavily around scrapping the planned campus entirely since the city and state jointly announced the Long Island City campus selection on Nov. 13.
Reasons for opposing the project ranged from the billions in tax incentives the company would receive as part of its move to Queens, to its potential impact on fueling gentrification and displacement, its labor record, and the closed-door negotiations with the city and state leading to the official HQ2 announcement.
While Amazon did not name the state and city officials that “made it clear that they oppose our presence,” two electeds representing the area where the company planned on setting up shop, State Sen. Mike Gianaris and Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, have been central voices in the fight against the project. Both initially signed letters in 2017 urging the company to select Long Island City in its HQ2 search.
But the two reversed course in the days leading up to the November announcement, when reports of Amazon’s Long Island City expansion first trickled out. While Gianaris appeared to call for the deal to be scrapped, but did not reject the company outright, Van Bramer all but noted that negotiations for a better deal were off the table.
Tensions appeared to pick up when Gianaris was selected to serve on the Public Authorities Control Board, a state body where members, with veto power, have enough sway to shut the project down.
Gianaris, in a statement, said the trillion-dollar proved itself to be a “bad neighbor” in its choice to pull out.
“Today’s behavior by Amazon shows why they would have been a bad partner for New York in any event. 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.”
Van Bramer, in a statement, celebrated the trillion-dollar corporation’s decision.
“When our community fights together, anything is possible, even when we’re up against the biggest corporation in the world,” he said. “I am proud that we fought for our values, which is a fight for working families, immigrants, and organized labor.”
He added: “Defeating an anti-union corporation that mistreats workers and assists ICE in terrorizing immigrant communities is a victory. Defeating an unprecedented act of corporate welfare is a triumph that should change the way we do economic development deals in our city and state forever.”
In a rally today, however, Van Bramer said Amazon chose to leave rather than fight “and adopt our New York values.”
The decision to pull out of New York City was sudden. The 45-member community advisory council, convened to help inform the 4-million square foot campus’ buildout and other project parameters, met this morning for about an hour with state and city officials in a meeting described as “business as usual” by one member. Nothing seemed amiss.
And last week, at a Community Board 2 meeting, it was announced that Amazon, the Empire State Development, and the city Economic Development Corporation would hold a public forum in Long Island City to discuss HQ2. The forum was scheduled for the end of February, but was postponed for the first two weeks of March. The change of dates was confirmed today–moments before Amazon’s blog post on its updated campus plans was published.
The ESD and EDC were also expected to attend a Dutch Kills Civic Association meeting tonight on HQ2.
De Blasio, in reaction to the Amazon announcement that came in just before midday, said, “you have to be tough to make it in New York City,” and appeared to be critical of the company more than the opposition that it said led to its choice to depart.
“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,” he said. “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.”
Cuomo, meanwhile, said in a statement released hours after the HQ2 decision that the blame rests in the “small group of politicians [that] put their own narrow political interests above their community.” He also targeted the New York State Senate, where many members vowed to fight the deal.
“The New York State Senate has done tremendous damage,” Cuomo said. “They should be held accountable for this lost economic opportunity.”
He added: “The fundamentals of New York’s business climate and community that attracted amazon to be here – our talent pool, world-class education system, commitment to diversity and progressivism – remain and we won’t be deterred as we continue to attract world class business to communities across New York State.”
Amazon planned on building a sprawling campus at Anable Basin on several publicly and privately owned lots from 46th Avenue to 44th Road west of Vernon Boulevard. The campus would have been home to 25,000 jobs, half of which were tech related.
The plan, which required the sites to be rezoned to allow for the dense buildout, was moving through a state-run process that was anticipated to wrap up in 2020. Amazon was expected to begin construction immediately after, and had plans to begin locating employees at One Court Square in the interim.
The “Amazonians” would have been temporarily working out of the 50-story building in Court Square beginning in 2019, the company said shortly after the HQ2 announcement.
The campus plan, per the memorandum of understanding Amazon signed with the city and state, was also expected to have open space, workforce development plans, manufacturing space, and either an elementary or middle school. The company also included provisions for a helipad on site.
The company had also agreed to partly fund infrastructure improvements outside of the headquarter space, but still within Long Island City, in the form of payments in lieu of taxes. The city would have received the $650 million in funds over the course of 40 years, and decide how to use them for infrastructure needs in the neighborhood.
The Long Island City lots where Amazon planned on building its offices were all slated for massive developments prior to HQ2. Plaxall, the plastics company based in the neighborhood, was steadily moving toward a project that would have seen up to 5,000 units on site in the next 15 years. The city, meanwhile, had plans to build the “Long Island City Innovation Center” in the publicly owned lots.
It is unclear what will become of the spaces.
This is a developing story, check back for more information.