One day after the official announcement of Long Island City as the future second headquarters of online retail giant Amazon, Councilmember Ben Kallos participated in a protest at the planned site of HQ2, on Wednesday. Kallos was among a chorus of voices expressing concerns about the impact of Amazon settling across the river from us on four million square feet of space. Many Long Island City community members attending the protest brandished Amazon prime boxes with the logo upside down, making a frown.
Amazon officially announced a plan to bring its second headquarters to Long Island City on November 13, following a 14-month long contest between hundreds of cities across the country. The company will also open a second new headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, with each location expected to house 25,000 new employees; Nashville will become home to Amazon’s “Operations Center of Excellence.”
Council member Kallos at Rally to Protest Amazon Deal
Living on Roosevelt Island for Amazon Employees
It is likely that families moving to New York City to work at Amazon would settle on Roosevelt Island where the living is easier; there are better options here for both school and transportation, and the commute to work would be one stop away on the ferry. Long waitlists for entrance into Long Island City schools have already brought some students here. To handle the overflow, busing to Woodside has been a community conversation until recently. The school’s zone size has increased by 124 percent since the 2011-12 school year. The neighborhood is also transportation poor; commuters to Manhattan rely solely on the 7 train.
Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation President Susan Rosenthal agrees, “We think the move will also increase awareness and interest in Roosevelt Island as an attractive place to settle and raise a family, as well as a convenient location where retailers can prosper.”
Trump Countdown Clock is Part of HQ2
According to the agreement with the City, HQ2 will consist of 4,000,000 square feet of commercial space and the creation of 25,000 new jobs with an average annual wage of over $150,000 within ten years. HQ2 will be constructed on a site bordered by Vernon Boulevard, 44th Road, 46th Avenue, and the East River. The site will be just four blocks north of the Long Island City ferry stop. The land is a mix of city-owned and private property owned by the plastics company Plaxall. The building with the Trump countdown clock, visible from the east side of the Island is on that property.
"At a moment in time when our City is facing infrastructure, housing, and transit deficits, we should not be subsidizing one of the largest multi-billion dollar corporations in the United States to the tune of $3 billion," said Council Member Ben Kallos. "Any deal with Amazon must go through the established community zoning-change process and ensure that Amazon hires locally and ethically, meeting our City's standards and prevailing wage requirements. As chair of the committee on Planning Dispositions and Concessions, residents on Roosevelt Island need to know that I will do my best to monitor developments of this deal closely, advocating for transparency and accountability."
With Roosevelt Island and Manhattan to the West, HQ2 will be on one side of Anable Basin, used by LIC Boathouse for kayaking, with the ferry and residential LIC on the other side.
Local Council Members Oppose Deal
Kallos’ chief concern is that the ULURP (Uniform Land Use Review Procedure) process, a standardized procedure where applications affecting the land use of the city are publicly reviewed, wasn’t followed. Kallos also listed rising rents and infrastructure being unable to keep up, as other problems with the deal. Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer, whose district will include HQ2, tweeted from the protest, “Our community has been fighting for better infrastructure & more open space in #LIC FOR YEARS. I’m sick of hearing there isn’t enough money for new schools, parks, transportation & affordable housing. $3 Billion should be invested in longtime residents, not #AmazonHQ2.”
Corey Johnson, speaker of the New York City Council, issued a statement the morning of November 13 echoing both council members’ concerns. “Amazon is one of the richest companies in the world, but you can’t put a price on community input, which has been missing throughout this entire process.” He added, “I find that lack of engagement and the fact that negotiations excluded the City Council – which is elected by New Yorkers to guide land use projects with communities in mind – extremely troubling. I also don’t understand why a company as rich as Amazon would need nearly $2 billion in public money for its expansion at a time when New York desperately needs money for affordable housing, transportation, infrastructure, and education.”
Amazon’s potential move into the waterfront properties would typically be contingent on a city rezoning, which includes a City Council vote. The state, however, is reportedly set on executing a controversial “General Project Plan” or GPP, that would bypass this procedure. This has been used in several other recent large-scale projects, Queens West and Atlantic Yards, for example, and is open to non-binding feedback from the city.
In a press conference held on November 13, attended by Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, Mayor Bill De Blasio, Governor Andrew Cuomo and others, De Blasio said, “It’s a great day for NYC; it’s an extraordinary day for Queens.” Noting that Queensbridge is the largest public housing development in the country with 3,142 apartments, he said “[One of the] biggest companies on earth will be next to the biggest housing project in the country,” and explained that baked into the deal will be “a lot of things to help a lot of people, including job trainings.”
De Blasio did address the pink elephant in the room, transportation. He said, “Ferry service is benefitting LIC and western Queens right now. We have to look at every conceivable way to improve,” and said “interesting options” could include a new Long Island Rail Road stop and adding a shuttle bus from the ferry stop to the larger community. He said, “We will look at every kind of option. Amazon or no Amazon; this is something we have to address.”
On the subject of transportation, Roosevelt Island Residents Association President, Lynne Shinozaki, agrees that transportation to and from Long Island City needs to improve, saying “I can’t imagine a scenario where the ferry picks up the slack. Who do I see benefitting from this? Real estate interests.”
Silver Lining for Cornell Tech Students
Not everyone believes this is all bad for us. Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation Susan Rosenthal said, “RIOC applauds the announcement that Amazon will be establishing a headquarters in nearby Long Island City. We hope Roosevelt Island residents, including those at Cornell Tech, will be among the pool of prospective new employees.”
Hudson Related’s David Kramer also thinks the benefits for Roosevelt Island will be long-term, saying “I think Roosevelt Island, like the rest of NYC, will be an indirect beneficiary to what’ll happen over the long run in LIC.”