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Facing increasing opposition from activists and some lawmakers, Amazon has decided to pull out of the deal to build a corporate campus in New York City. The move comes after a lengthy location-search that culminated with the retail giant announcing its intention in November to bring one half of its HQ2 complex to Long Island City, Queens.
The company announced the stunning reversal in a press release on Thursday. "After much thought and deliberation, we’ve decided not to move forward with our plans to build a headquarters for Amazon in Long Island City, Queens," the statement read.
It continued: "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. 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."
can we get a special edition of the New York Times The Hunt column about all the amazon execs who bought condos in LIC already
— rachel syme (@rachsyme) February 14, 2019
While several members of the City Council had opposed the deal, the body had no actual authority over the plan. State Senator Michael Gianaris, an Amazon critic who was chosen last month to lead a public authorities board with veto power over the deal, had said he was open to renegotiating the terms of Amazon's move, provided they didn't receive any tax breaks.
“Like a petulant child, Amazon insists on getting its way or takes its ball and leaves," Gainaris said in a statement to the Times. “The only thing that happened here is that a community that was going to be profoundly affected by their presence started asking questions.’"
Referencing Amazon's promise to continue growing its existing locations in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Staten Island, Gianaris added, “Amazon admits they will grow their presence in New York without their promised subsidies. So what was all this really about?"
Listen to Christopher Robbins and Jim O'Grady discuss Amazon's decision to abandon NYC, and Shumita Basu describe reaction from Long Island City residents on WNYC's All Things Considered:
Chelsea Connor, a spokesperson for the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, echoed the sentiment: "Rather than addressing the legitimate concerns that have been raised by many New Yorkers, Amazon says you do it our way or not at all, we will not even consider the concerns of New Yorkers—that's not what a responsible business would do."
The company had hinted at a possible plan to leave New York last week, with unnamed sources telling the Washington Post it may not be "worth it" to take up to $3 billion in grants and tax incentives from New York City and State to create 25,000 to 40,000 jobs here.
Also, if you're not following any of the work that local, grassroots groups did to bring attention to Amazon's complicity with ICE, its anti-union politics, and how little this would serve long-standing communities in Queens, then start with @QueensBarrios.
— Max RN (@MaxRivlinNadler) February 14, 2019
Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio—who orchestrated the initial deal together—could not immediately be reached for comment. The company added that they do not intend to re-open the HQ2 search at this time.
Advocates are planning a victory party at Diversity Plaza in Jackson Heights on Thursday night.
This is a breaking story; check back for updates imminently.
[UPDATE 2:57 p.m.] Sources in the State Senate told WNYC/Gothamist that they were as confused as everyone else when the announcement was made, because a week ago Amazon reps said the threats featured in the Washington Post story were not real.
At a press conference in his office, Senator Gianaris was asked why he thought the deal fell apart.
"What it looks like to me is that Amazon couldn't get its way," the senator said. "Amazon believes it's more important than the governments in this country."
Asked about what kinds of jobs and infrastructure would be lost from Amazon's departure, Gianaris said that he couldn't say for certain.
"We didn't have answers to a lot of these questions. When we dared to say, 'can we have some answers,' They left."
[UPDATE 2:45 p.m.] Governor Andrew Cuomo has finally issued a statement, in which he blames a "small group of politicians" for scaring Amazon away from New York City.
"Amazon chose to come to New York because we are the capital of the world and the best place to do business," the governor said. "We competed in and won the most hotly contested national economic development competition in the United States, resulting in at least 25,000-40,000 good paying jobs for our state and nearly $30 billion dollars in new revenue to fund transit improvements, new housing, schools and countless other quality of life improvements. Bringing Amazon to New York diversified our economy away from real estate and Wall Street, further cementing our status as an emerging center for tech and was an extraordinary economic win not just for Queens and New York City, but for the entire region, from Long Island to Albany's nanotech center.
"However, a small group 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," the statement continued. "The New York State Senate has done tremendous damage. They should be held accountable for this lost economic opportunity."
"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."
[UPDATE] 1:20 p.m. Mayor Bill de Blasio, who privately negotiated the initial deal along with Governor Cuomo, has now weighed in on Amazon's decision to back out.
"You have to be tough to make it in New York City," he said. "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. 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."
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. https://t.co/nyvm5vtH9k
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) February 14, 2019
[UPDATE 1:10 p.m.] Advocates who've spent recent months working to kill the deal are celebrating the news. In a joint statement delivered on behalf of more than a dozen organizations—including ALIGN, New York Communities for Change, Make the Road, and the Democratic Socialists of America—a spokesperson said that New Yorkers had "just delivered a Valentine’s day message to Amazon: It's not us, it's you."
"This victory is a clear demonstration of the power of workers and communities across Queens and New York who came together and are fighting for a city that works for us and not for billionaires like Bezos," the groups added. "We will continue fighting for real investment for good jobs, affordable housing, NYCHA, and transit in our communities and we will continue to stand in solidarity and support of other cities and communities facing Amazon and Bezos's bullying tactics."
Coucilmember Van Bramer also painted the news as a win for Western Queens activism, with reverberating consequences for the future of economic deals in New York City. "Defeating an anti-union corporation that mistreats workers and assists ICE in terrorizing immigrant communities is a victory," he said. "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."
[UPDATE 12:52 p.m] City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who has led two contentious hearings on the Amazon project has released his own statement: “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. 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.”
While the news was a victory for the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union, it's a blow to the building trades unions, which stood to gain jobs from the deal.
Gary LaBarbera, president, Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, said he was "stunned."
"This sends the wrong message to businesses all over the world looking to call New York home. Who will want to come now?"
[UPDATE 12:41 p.m.] In a statement, State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who recommended Senator Michael Gianaris to the Public Authorities Control Board, said that Amazon's decision is "proof of why it is so important to have an inclusive and transparent process from the beginning."
"It is unfortunate that rather than engage in productive discussions about a major development, Amazon has decided to leave New York," she added. "This process was clearly flawed and did not include the affected community nor their legislative representatives until after the deal was signed. This was not the same process that was followed in other areas including Virginia and that is clearly why this deal failed.”
Additional reporting by Lydia McMullen-Laird.