Ten First Takes on Amazon’s Big Plans for Long Island City

The trillion-dollar company pledges an economic infusion, but critics complain about the process and side effects

The Long Island City waterfront and skyline (Photo by Mark Lennihan/AP)

When Amazon confirmed the winners today in its 14-month competition among cities and states to be the site of its “HQ2,” the reactions were almost painfully mixed. That was true even among the winners: Long Island City, Queens, and Crystal City, Va., which came out ahead of 20 finalists, including Brooklyn and two other New York City contenders.

While Amazon has pledged total investments of $5 billion and the hiring of 50,000 workers, the economic largesse comes with complications. Critics voiced complaints about the secrecy of the process, a bait-and-switch outcome, pressure on housing prices and transportation, and excessive state subsidies for one of the world’s richest corporations. A selection from the week’s reporting and commentary:

1. Amazon announces New York and Virginia as HQ2 picks

The announcement capped a frenzied, 14-month competition among cities across the county looking to lure the tech giant for what executives had initially billed as a second headquarters, or HQ2. Instead of choosing one site, Amazon decided on two. The new major sites will make Amazon one of the largest private tech employers on the East Coast and may, ever so slightly, help shift tech talent eastward, away from Silicon Valley and Seattle. Read more. [New York Times]

2. Queens officials come out against Amazon’s HQ2

Some elected officials plan to hold a rally in opposition to Amazon on Wednesday. City Council member Jimmy Van Bramer and State Senator Michael Gianaris have both come out against Amazon, saying “offering massive corporate welfare from scarce public resources to one of the wealthiest corporations in the world at a time of great need in our state is just wrong.” Read more. [Curbed]

3. Amazon’s move to Long Island City sparks condo frenzy


In a map provided by Amazon, the new office complex will be close to the waterfront. Just to the south of the site, across Newtown Creek, is Greenpoint, Brooklyn

Amazon’s interest was made known scarcely a week ago, yet brokers say they are already selling units—sometimes sight-unseen—via text message. Others are renting vans and packing them full of clients eager to view multiple buildings, or holding group tours in Chinese. “This is like a gift from the gods for the Long Island City condo market,” said Patrick W. Smith, a Stribling agent in the area. Read more. [Wall Street Journal]

4. Amazon’s HQ2 spectacle isn’t just shameful—it should be illegal

Each year, local governments spend nearly $100 billion to move headquarters and factories between states. It’s a wasteful exercise that requires a national solution. Read more. [The Atlantic]

5. Amazon HQ2 will cost taxpayers at least $4.6 billion

That’s more than twice what the company claimed, a new study shows. The Amazon location in LIC is situated in a federal opportunity zone, a Jack Kemp-era concept resurrected in the 2017 tax law that, in theory, is supposed to bring money into poverty-stricken areas. Under the tax overhaul signed by President Trump last year, investors in opportunity zones can defer payments of capital gains taxes until 2026. Read more. [The Intercept]

6. Amazon may have outsmarted itself with HQ2 tactics

Amazon may regret that it turned a site-selection process into a reality television show. It received maximum publicity and incentives but left the company open to resentment. Read more. [Bloomberg]

7. Amazon’s HQ2 will benefit from NYC. But what does the city get?

On one level, this all seems inevitable. A handful of the wealthiest American cities today have a magnetic attraction. On another level, the tech industry isn’t culturally urban. It’s insularity, secrecy, its bedrock libertarianism and algorithmic notions about progress, land use and corporate independence have never easily meshed with the slow, open-society, regulatory-heavy, greater-good mission that defines city living. Read more. [New York Times]

8. The cities that lost out on Amazon's HQ2 still won

They laid the groundwork to become tech hubs for years to come. The search, which was narrowed from 238 bids down to 20 finalists, helped many cities remake their images. “Just being in the top 20 has put the spotlight on the city and has made people pay attention that we’re not just a sunny, low-tax city,” Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said in an interview. “We’re a city full of innovators.” Read more. [CNN]

9. Amazon set to occupy Queens office tower

Current office tenant Citigroup will move most of its employees out of the 50-story building, freeing up 1 million sq. ft. at One Court Square. Read more. [Commercial Observer]

10. Ocasio-Cortez finds HQ2 in NYC ‘extremely concerning’

Queens residents are “outraged” at Amazon’s plans to build part of its second headquarters in Long Island City, according to Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who fired off a series of tweets. Among them: “The idea that [Amazon] will receive hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks at a time when our subway is crumbling and our communities need MORE investment, not less, is extremely concerning to residents here.” Read more. [New York Post]

11. PLUS: How Brooklyn launched its 'Brooklyn Prime' pitch for HQ2

Sunset Park! Williamsburg! The Innovation Coast! Developers scrambled to line up attractive campus sites to lure the online giant. Read more. [The Bridge]