Amazon Cancels Plans for New NYC Headquarters


New Yorkers protest against Amazon (Photo courtesy of Flickr)

By Erica Scalise

After Amazon announced its plans to build a new “HQ2” headquarters in Long Island City on Nov. 13, the company publicly broke up with New York City this past Valentine’s Day following pushback from a number of state and local politicians.

“While polls show that 70% of New Yorkers support our plans and investment, a number of state and local politicians have made it clear that they oppose our presence and will not work with us to build the type of relationships that are required to go forward with the project we and many others envisioned in Long Island City,” the company wrote in a letter.

Several of the state’s elected officials responded negatively to the announcement.

The state’s deal-makers, Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, expressed their disappointment over the company’s unexpected exit.

In his Feb. 13 statement, the governor criticized state and local officials for opposing the deal.

“A small group of politicians put their own narrow political interests above their community — which poll after poll showed overwhelmingly supported bringing Amazon to Long Island City — the state’s economic future and the best interests of the people of this state,” said Cuomo. “The New York State Senate has done tremendous damage. They should be held accountable for this lost economic opportunity.”

De Blasio questioned Amazon’s original intentions on WNYC’s “The Brian Lehrer Show” the following day.

“Why did they even bother to choose New York City if they didn’t want to actually be a part of New York City and do the work it takes to be a good neighbor?” he asked.

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. voiced a similar sentiment — the company failed to understand the give-and-take nature of the deal.

“It’s unfortunate that @amazon was unwilling to grasp the concept that massive taxpayer subsidies require equivalent concessions to the people providing them. This is a simple aphorism: if you want charity, you have to be charitable,” he said in a tweet on Feb. 14.

Several Queens elected officials emerged as the most high-profile opponents of the plan since its announcement, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, New York City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, state Sen. Michael Gianaris and New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson.

Ocasio-Cortez celebrated the announcement in a series of tweets. The representative questioned where 25,000, the number of jobs Amazon claimed HQ2 would create, came from.

“Anything is possible: today was the day a group of dedicated, everyday New Yorkers & their neighbors defeated Amazon’s corporate greed, its worker exploitation, and the power of the richest man in the world,” tweeted Ocasio-Cortez.

Van Bramer, who would have had authority over the plan had Amazon not bypassed the standard land use process, and state Sen. Michael Gianaris, who belongs to a state board that might have blocked the Amazon deal, issued a joint statement on Nov. 11 regarding their public stance against the prospective deal.

Following Amazon’s breakaway announcement, Van Bramer spoke on WNYC’s “The Brian Lehrer Show” and said the company would rather leave New York City than change its corporate culture and allow workers to organize.

“Labor thought they could reach a deal but Amazon walked away from New York rather than adjust their anti-union position,” said Van Bramer. “Shame on them for that. Them wanting to leave the greatest city in the world is their loss.”

According to Gianaris, Amazon’s pullout spoke to the company’s failure to work with the community it had wanted to join.

“Like a petulant child, Amazon insists on getting its way or takes its ball and leaves,” Gianaris told The New York Times. “Even by their own words, Amazon admits they will grow their presence in New York without their promised subsidies. So what was all this really about?”

Johnson also addressed the issue of civic involvement in a statement on Feb. 14.

“I look forward to working with companies that understand that if you’re willing to engage with New Yorkers and work through challenging issues, New York City is the world’s best place to do business,” said Johnson. “I hope this is the start of a conversation about vulture capitalism and where our tax dollars are best spent. I know I’d choose mass transit over helipads any day.”

In an interview with The Ram, public advocate candidate and Assemblyman Michael Blake said the pullout could have been avoided if everyone involved had been at the table and at the front end of the conversation when it was originally proposed as a business deal.

“I think it’s unfortunate that Amazon walked away,” said Blake. “Clearly Amazon felt the heat; there was a lot of pressure being placed upon them and the responsible approach would have been to stay at the table to negotiate, not walk away.”

Blake, who signed the original letter in Oct. 2017 addressed to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, inviting the company to locate its second headquarters in New York City, said there needed to be dramatic improvements on the proposed deal.

“From ensuring that immigrants have protection from ICE to unions having protection to unionize, to low-income communities, people of color, women having the protections they deserve,” said Blake. “I think [this] is something that is a learning lesson, but also it’s about our priorities. Too many people had hope that something could happen here and they were let down.”

Several elected officials touted the Amazon deal and talks of HQ2 from the beginning.

Rep. Caroline Maloney said it was not the Valentine’s Day the city needed in a series of tweets on Feb. 14. The representative expressed her dissatisfaction over her home district’s loss of prospective jobs but noted the deal was imperfect.

“The deal could have been improved,” said Maloney. “There were legitimate concerns raised and aspects that I wanted changed. I was ready to work for those changes. But now, we won’t have a chance to do that and we are out 25K+ new jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in new investments.”

New York City Councilman Ruben Diaz Sr. has been a longtime supporter of the deal. Diaz shifted the blame onto Van Bramer for the loss of 25,000 jobs.

“You’re telling me that’s not power? That’s power,” said Diaz, according to a tweet by NY1 reporter Gloria Pazmino.

As New Jersey’s Governor, Phil Murphy continues to stress the state’s availability for HQ2, plans for New York City’s future ties to Amazon are uncertain, according to Blake.

“I think what we are aware of is that it’s a learning lesson for all of us, that if you start the conversation with demands on both sides, both sides have to be open to negotiation,” said Blake. “It seems like Amazon was not willing to negotiate and it seems like a lost opportunity because of that.”