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New York doesn’t need Amazon

| Tuesday, February 19, 2019

On Thursday, Amazon announced it would no longer be building its planned “HQ2” in New York. After months of courtship and discussion, the company had decided to place one half of its new headquarters in the Long Island City neighborhood of Queens, New York. Amazon would have earned the city approximately $27 billion in tax revenue and created 25,000 jobs. In exchange, the city would provide Amazon with $3 billion in tax incentives. But none of it is happening now.

The company released a statement explaining the cancelation, saying “the commitment to build a new headquarters requires positive, collaborative relationships with … elected officials [but] 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.” Indeed, many state and local politicians did oppose its presence, including Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, city councilmen and New York State senators and assemblymen.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo, however, had championed the arrival of Amazon in New York. The deal they crafted could only be described as equitable; it checked off everything on the company’s wish list. But because a few vocal politicians and citizens have voiced their opposition to HQ2, Amazon has backed out of its promise. “They took their ball and went home,” de Blasio said. Like a petulant child, whining even after getting all it wanted, the company has decided to cower from New York, retreating to a place where people will be less likely to speak their minds.

I’m relieved.

New York never needed Amazon. It certainly didn’t need to provide it with a $3 billion tax incentive for building HQ2. The company made $11.2 billion in profits last year, and paid no federal taxes. In fact, it received a rebate of $129 million, making the effective tax rate for one of the largest companies in the world negative 1 percent. Amazon should not need an incentive to build anywhere. The city’s money will be better spent fixing its underfunded education system or its crumbling infrastructure.

Before HQ2, the de Blasio administration had planned on using that area of Long Island City for the creation of as many as 1,500 units of affordable housing. Those plans are again free to proceed.

Other tech companies have already announced expansion in New York to fill the gap Amazon is leaving. Google is building a new $1 billion campus in Manhattan’s West Village. Within 10 years, the company will employ more than 14,000 New Yorkers. They didn’t ask for, and will not receive, a dollar in tax incentives for doing so.

And, now, Queens gets its soul back. It’s never been as popular, or as glamorous, as the other boroughs. But it’s always had character. Its neighborhoods have a tenacity, an authenticity, that left most of Manhattan and Brooklyn long ago. An 8 million square-foot Amazon campus could have killed that. It would have meant skyrocketing housing prices that push locals out and bring gentrifiers in. From Bayside to Jamaica to the Rockaways, Queens has always held a special place in New York as both a residential respite and a bustling nucleus in its own right. For at least a little longer now, it gets to stay that way.

Twenty-five thousand jobs are worth much more than my own perceptions of Queens. But other companies have already proven that tech jobs will come to New York, as everything does. If Amazon is unwilling to see the opportunity it is wasting, it has forfeited the right to a presence in the city. If it is unable to see the generosity of the offer given to it, it did not deserve it. If Amazon is offended that New Yorkers would not bend over backwards, if it could not handle any criticism of HQ2 at all, then it is better off, too. Amazon never would’ve made it in New York.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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