Oh, Amazon, with promises of thousands of jobs and millions in financial investment, unmercifully teased the nation’s cities with a “contest” to find the retail giant’s second headquarters. After the initial 238 who met the request-for-proposal guidelines, the retail giant decided to split the bounty between two urban locations, Long Island, NY, and Arlington, VA.
…a smokescreen for what Bezos has wanted all along.
It proved once and for all Jeff Bezos and his juggernaut electronic commerce and cloud company are not killing brick and mortar businesses. But they effectively obliterated previously planned affordable housing in Long Island.
Before the crush of caving to Amazon’s bidding, Long Island was primed to build a mixed-use and mixed-income community at Anable Basin, a 500-foot-long artificial inlet on the East River. Until the flash of a giant wad of cash by Amazon, the family-owned plastics company Plaxall, which owns the site, proposed an overhaul of the neighborhood that would allow for industrial spaces, housing and apartment units, and a new public school.
But pump the brakes, Long Islanders, you are about to steer into a corporate skid.
Blessing but for Whom?
Winning the bid was a dream of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, and he sold his soul to acquire Bezo’s pleasure. To add insult, de Blasio threw his city’s dwindling middle – and working-class citizens under a pollution – belching bus to land the splashy project, tossing the promised 1,500 affordable housing units out of the sparkly new borough window.
How, one might ask, is Bezos benefitting from this marriage? Here’s the planned honeymoon Amazon is smiling about today – public subsidies:
“Amazon will receive performance-based direct incentives of $1.525 billion based on the company creating 25,000 jobs in Long Island City. This includes a refundable tax credit through New York State’s Excelsior Program of up to $1.2 billion calculated as a percentage of the salaries Amazon expects to pay employees over the next ten years, which equates to $48,000 per job for 25,000 jobs with an average wage of over $150,000; and a cash grant from Empire State Development of $325 million based on the square footage of buildings occupied in the next ten years.”
The taxpayers are going to ante up their hard-earned tax dollars, coupled with former earmarked NYC budget bucks, for Amazon, and that has New York state Sen. Michael Gianaris, who represents Long Island City, hopping mad:
“The fact that massive public subsidies are helping eliminate affordable housing units is just the latest reason this bad deal needs to be torn up and thrown away.”
But for Amazon and Bezos, that’s simply collateral damage in the pursuit of corporate profits and political public relations. And the puppets at city hall are in lockstep, defending the dismissal of adding residential and affordable housing and focusing on jobs. A spokesperson for the city’s Economic Development Corporation, Stephanie Baez, doubled down on the scripted narrative:
“Tackling the affordability crisis means building more affordable housing — but it also means creating more good-paying jobs. Development of commercial office space around Anable Basin will offset concerns about residential overdevelopment that have been expressed by some community residents.”
Overdevelopment or “hey, low-incomers, you are being rolled for Amazon.”
Gianaris is not backing down, defending himself as an original city proponent for a Bezos invasion: “We never contemplated that public dollars would secretly be given to Amazon to get that deal.”
More Con Than Contest
The coveted Amazon HQ2 contest first came to America’s attention in 2017, promising one city in the nation 50,000 jobs and $3.7 billion in capital investment to the location Bezos blessed with his stamp of approval.
But in hindsight, this process seems to have been a smokescreen for what Bezos has wanted all along: to dominate in the retail capital of America, NYC, and to claim a seat at the table of power in the D.C. area.
Did he want to arrive on the East Coast shrouded in mystery but welcomed with fanfare while urban communities jumped through hoops, spent capital, and submitted data for his perusal?
Let’s face it: New York City paid Bezos’ ticket to ride into town, to gobble great swaths of prime real estate, while tossing the local peasants to the curb.
“This is a giant step on our path to building an economy in New York City that leaves no one behind,” peacocked de Blasio in the press release written and dispensed by Amazon. And, wait for it, there is rumored talk of re-christening the city the DeBezos Bad Apple.