Amazon’s ‘HQ2’ headquarters set to open in Long Island City, faces criticism

Long Island City was recently chosen as one of two locations for Amazon’s headquarters, or ‘HQ2’ for short, and New Yorkers and Long Islanders alike have expressed concerns over the $3.6 billion project.

As part of the agreement, which includes offices to be built at the 11th Street Basin in Long Island City, New York will give Amazon as much as $1.7 billion in subsidies through a variety of programs. In return, Amazon has promised to build a school, as well as invest in unspecified infrastructure and park improvements, along with bringing 25,000 jobs to Queens.

However, residents are concerned that the tech giant’s campus will drive up housing and increase congestion in an already expensive and crowded area. “The 4, 5, 6, and 7 trains are about to get a system shock when 125,000 new commuters start oozing into Grand Central via the new Long Island Railroad access….now 25,000 Amazon employees?” asks Dan Ferrante, an economist residing in Long Island City. “Amazon is ready to open in ten months. The city is not.”

Days after hearing the news, dozens of residents took to the streets at the proposed location for ‘HQ2’ in Long Island City as well as the Amazon Store in Manhattan to protest what they call ‘#Amazonscam.’ The rallies called for the city to demand that Amazon give back to the community rather than take, and called attention to the housing and transportation difficulties that the facility will cause in the community.

“The deal would give away multiple sites slated to provide 1,500 units of affordable housing while the number of homeless New Yorkers continues to increase across the state,” said mathematics teacher and protester Jerry Callahan, 33, of Queens. “Amazon has a disturbing record of fueling gentrification, killing local jobs, mistreating workers, harming communities, and collaborating with ICE to enable deportations of immigrants.”

Those who couldn’t attend in person, expressed concerns and continue to rally through their unions. “One of the richest companies in the world is $3 billion richer, and the competition, the brick and mortar stores that create the heart and soul of New York City, are stuck with the burden of a bleak future,” said Cassandra Berrocal, president of Local 3 United Storeworkers division of the Retail Wholesale Department Store Union. “They work for their own self-interest, not for the good of New York or the people that live here. If they are going to stay, major reforms are to be made,” she added.

Many have even begun comparing the city to Seattle, where Amazon’s original headquarters is located. As the company’s success has skyrocketed to over $1 trillion, only the second publicly traded U.S. company to do so, Seattle has struggled to adjust to the economic boom, with the city’s mayor declaring a state of emergency due to a growing number of people left homeless by rising rents and real estate prices.

“Anyone who might have already been considering a move to Long Island City should consider making their move as soon as possible, as the rise in prices will be undoubtedly be an effect of exposure and rise of interest in the area,” said Ray Mantoura, a Century21 realtor working in the Nassau/Queens area. “Investors know this is going to be big, and so they will keep a watchful eye on the area.”

Congresswoman-Elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has received calls from concerned residents in her Queens district, which is adjacent to where the Amazon offices will be located. “Amazon is a billion-dollar company. The idea that it 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,” she tweeted in November.

“There are many potential benefits,” said Queens Community Board 1 member in charge of Community & Economic Development Thomas Ryan. “But even if it were a great thing, the taxpayer should not be handing over obscene amounts of money to Amazon to convince them to do it.”