The post-Amazon blame game continues. The latest player was James Patchett, president and CEO of the city’s Economic Development Corporation, who told the audience at Thursday’s Crain’s New York Business breakfast that he was proud of the way his agency had handled the botched deal. “It’s actually a validation of all of the things that we’ve been saying and all believing for a long time,” he contended, by which he meant one thing: “That Western Queens has the potential as a commercial hub as we all thought it did.”
Things are totally rosy in Long Island City if we all just agree to ignore that nutty three-month dream about tens of thousands of jobs, along with the continuing ramifications of their loss. But that is what Patchett would like us to do. “It feels very raw for a lot of us right now,” he admitted about the company’s decision to abandon its outsized plans for New York. “But we’ll get past this.”
Patchett then took a passel of stats from the upside of the city’s tech economy and dropped them on the gathering. Such as: the city has more than 9,000 start-ups, 120 business incubators, and venture capital galore. “Google is building a one-billion-dollar campus just south of the Village,” he noted. “And it will expand its New York City workforce by seven thousand.” All true.
But then Erik Engquist, Crain’s New York Business’s managing editor and one of the event’s moderators, adjusted Patchett’s happy outlook. “Instead of a coronation, you had a coronary,” Engquist said of the metaphorical Valentine’s-Day-massacre set off by Amazon’s announcement that there would be no rose for the city. “Now you are the coroner and this is the autopsy.”
Patchett quickly proceeded to blame others for the failure, beginning with Amazon. “They didn't perform particularly well at their public hearings,” he carped about a pair of political showdowns that featured aggressive grillings by Council Speaker Corey Johnson, and cries of “shame” from Queens Councilman Jimmy Van Bremer over Amazon’s union-busting. “They never hired a single New Yorker to work for them to talk to New Yorkers. And they never really connected with people in the city.”
The press came in for the second half of Patchett’s roast. The economic chief claimed that news outlets “poisoned the dialogue” with misleading reports about the nature of the $3 billion subsidy package offered by the city and state to Amazon. “The way they were represented,” he said of the subsidies, “was sort of accepting the opponents' argument as though it was literally a cash transfer.”
Engquist then asked Patchett to simply and clearly explain the true nature of the subsidies.
Patchett began, “Uh, yes. Um, It's, it's, it's—oh, you mean about the, the incentives?” Things went downhill from there. Patchett tried gamely to distinguish cash grants from tax breaks but soon tangled himself in a thicket of clause-clotted culs-de-sac and half-cooked concepts. “Yeah, they were all. So. Two components …” That’s how a typical thrust began—and this from the man whose job was to help sell the deal’s economic component to the public.
To be sure, some Amazon opponents—Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez among them—misleadingly characterized the subsidies as akin to a three-billion-dollar pile of cash that could simply be redirected to other needs. “We could invest those three billion dollars in our district ourselves, if we wanted to,” she told a TV reporter in the halls of Congress, and drew criticism for it afterward.
However, countless press reports explained how the bulk of the subsidies worked: they were tax breaks offered to the company in exchange for geographically diversifying New York’s economy by creating jobs outside Manhattan—jobs that would then bring tax revenue. There would also have been a cash grant of five hundred million dollars from the state, which would have gone toward building Amazon's campus. That money can now be steered to other projects—or, more likely, to plug the state's upcoming budget gap.
Patchett did toss out a scrap of news about what’s next for Long Island City. He said city land that had been slated for the tech giant’s corporate towers will instead become a mix of homes and businesses. That, after all, had been the original plan before New York decided to drop it and go a-courtin’ for the company. The new-old project will consist of a thousand residential units—two hundred and fifty of which will be affordable. The neighborhood will also gain 100,000 square feet of light manufacturing and industrial space, ground floor retail, a cultural center, a 600-seat middle school, and a one-acre park.
For more, listen to reporter Jim O'Grady's story on WNYC: