Amazon Is Getting $1.5 Billion to Come to Queens. Now Begins the Fight Over if It’s Worth It.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio are expected to stand together Tuesday to announce that they have emerged victorious from a nationwide competition to lure tens of thousands of Amazon jobs to New York.
But the big question people are asking is what did they offer the company, in terms of tax subsidies and other benefits, and what will New York City get in return?
Amazon finally gave some answers on Tuesday morning.
“Amazon will receive performance-based direct incentives of $1.525 billion based on the company creating 25,000 jobs in Long Island City,” the company wrote in a blog post formally announcing the deal, most of which come from a state tax credit. “Amazon will receive these incentives over the next decade based on the incremental jobs it creates each year.”
The state also offered a capital grant to the company that could total as much as $500 million that Amazon can use to build new offices.
And it will also apply for additional incentives through existing city programs available to any company, Amazon said. Tax experts said those programs, for hiring workers in boroughs outside Manhattan and for commercial development, could amount to hundreds of millions of dollars.
For its part, the company said it would "donate space on its campus for a tech start-up incubator and for use by artists and industrial businesses” and for a new school, as well as make investments in infrastructure and green space. It also agreed to spend $5 million on training and internship programs and to participate in “job fairs and resume workshops” at the nearby Queensbridge Houses, the largest public housing development in the country.
The ability of the governor and mayor to work together was a key factor in persuading Amazon to locate its offices in Long Island City, Queens, one of two locations that also includes the Washington suburb of Crystal City, Va.
“We are thrilled that Amazon has selected New York City for its new headquarters,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement with Amazon and Mr. Cuomo.
But as the details emerge, many are likely to be angry that the costs — in crowded subways, rising home prices and strained sewers — could far outweigh the benefits of possibly 25,000 new workers making an average of $100,000.
Some already are.
“We’ve been getting calls and outreach from Queens residents all day about this,” Congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who will represent a neighboring Queens community, wrote on Twitter. “The community’s response? Outrage.”
Local politicians were promising protests.
Others, including local business and technology groups and former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, praised the deal.
“Amazon’s decision to locate to Long Island City is an affirmation not only of N.Y.C.’s growing tech talent,” Mr. Bloomberg wrote on Twitter, “but also of all the investments — in housing, schools, parks, transportation, and culture” made in Long Island City.
Indeed, as part of one tour of New York City this year, Amazon executives were taken around the Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island — an innovation incubator and a legacy of Mr. Bloomberg’s tenure — and back to Long Island City using a new ferry system created by Mr. de Blasio.
But for Amazon executives, who may have anticipated some local and vocal resistance, the bigger question appeared to be whether Mr. Cuomo and Mr. de Blasio could get along.
The acrimony and mistrust between the two top New York Democrats is so well-known that before Amazon made its final push, top executives met with both leaders separately, according to a person with direct knowledge of the gatherings, to see if they were on the same page.
The Amazon officials came away from the meetings, which did not involve the chief executive, Jeff Bezos, convinced that Mr. Cuomo and Mr. de Blasio could work together on the project, the person said, something they have struggled to do on everything from public housing to mass transit to the eventual fate of a wayward deer.
After the meetings, documents began flying back and forth between Amazon and New York officials, the person said.
The 32-page memorandum of understanding, unveiled Tuesday, was a three-way agreement between the city, the state and the Seattle-based company, and provides the outline of a process that would take place over the next few months, according to a person with direct knowledge of the negotiations.
Amazon will create a corporate headquarters along the East River using parcels that combine private and public land around what is known as the Anable Basin, according to the document. The company promised to spend at least $2.5 billion on the new offices, which would encompass 4 million square feet with an option to double in size.
But, as part of the deal, Amazon will also have significant space available much sooner because it will lease up to 1 million square feet of space in the Citigroup Tower, which for years was the first major office building in Long Island City.
Two people briefed on the discussions marveled at the level of cooperation between the teams from Albany and New York City as they dealt with Amazon and at the relative secrecy in which the discussions were kept for about a year.
According to the decade-long plan, about 3,000 employees may be hired in New York in the first two years, ramping up to more than 25,000 by 2028.
But the agreement, reached behind closed doors and so far without local input, has angered officials. Part of the reason is that, according to the broad contours of the plan, the state and the city will bypass the veto of the City Council, which has the power to block rezonings and land-use measures. They will instead employ a state-level process previously used for large-scale development projects such as Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn.
“We’re going to mobilize and protest and claim that democracy is still alive in Queens and in New York City and New York State,” said Jimmy Van Bramer, the councilman whose district includes Long Island City. “It’s unacceptable and we’re going to fight.”
Their ability to block the measure is uncertain, Mr. Van Bramer acknowledged. But, he added, “we’re not giving up.”
Mr. Van Bramer and State Senator Michael Gianaris, another vocal Democratic critic of the deal to bring Amazon to Queens, were not always against the idea. In October 2017, they signed on to a letter, along with the Queens borough president and other elected leaders, imploring the company to come to Long Island City.
Asked about the letter Monday, Mr. Van Bramer and Mr. Gianaris said they welcomed the jobs but objected to hundreds of millions in tax breaks for the company.
“I welcome the jobs if it means Amazon investment in L.I.C. infrastructure, without us having to pay a ransom for them to be here,” Mr. Gianaris said.
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