Amazon pulls out of planned New York City headquarters
Amazon on Thursday canceled its plans to build an expansive corporate campus in New York City after facing an unexpectedly fierce backlash from some lawmakers and union leaders, who contended that a tech giant did not deserve nearly $3 billion in government incentives.
The company, as part of its extensive search for a new headquarters, had chosen Long Island City, Queens, as one of two winning sites, saying that it would create more than 25,000 jobs in the city.
But the agreement to lure Amazon stirred an intense debate about the use of public subsidies to entice wealthy companies, the rising cost of living in rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods, and the city’s very identity.
“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,” Amazon said in a statement.
The company’s decision is a major blow for Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, who had set aside their differences to bring the company to New York.
But it was at least a short-term win for insurgent progressive politicians led by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose upset victory last year occurred in the area where Amazon had planned its site. Her win galvanized the party’s left flank, which mobilized against the deal, and on Thursday she seemed to revel in the company’s retreat.
As opposition mounted, the governor and the mayor met on Monday in Albany and discussed how to save the deal, according to a person familiar with the conversations but who was not authorized to discuss them.
After the meeting, de Blasio spoke to a senior Amazon executive by phone on Monday and the mayor was told that the company remained committed to coming to New York, the person said. De Blasio was in the process of connecting with Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive, the person said. It was unclear if he did.
Both the mayor’s and the governor’s offices reassured Amazon executives that, despite the vocal criticism, the deal they had negotiated would be approved. But the company appeared upset at even a moderate level of resistance, the person said.
Amazon’s leadership agreed to pull out of New York on Wednesday evening, according to two people familiar with the decision. The company did not inform the governor or the mayor until Thursday morning, shortly before posting its announcement.
Cuomo and de Blasio reacted in starkly different ways to Amazon’s decision. The governor blamed newly emboldened Democrats who now control the State Senate for derailing the project.
He said in a statement: “A small group of 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.”
For his part, de Blasio seemed to shift away from his backing of the deal.
“We gave Amazon the opportunity to be a good neighbor and do business in the greatest city in the world,” de Blasio said. “Instead of working with the community, Amazon threw away that opportunity.”
But Kathryn S. Wylde, the chief executive of the Partnership for New York City, an influential business group, said the reception Amazon had received sent a “pretty bad message to the job creators of the city and the world.”
“How can anyone be surprised?” Wylde said. “We competed successfully, made a deal, and spent the last three months trashing our new partner.”
As recently as Wednesday, Cuomo had brokered a meeting between Amazon executives, including Brian Huseman, who had represented the company at the City Council, and union leaders who had been resistant to the deal — including from the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store union and the Teamsters, according to two people briefed on the sit-down.
The meeting ended without any compromise on the part of Amazon, according to the people. But Stuart Appelbaum, of the retail union, who was part of the meeting, said, “Amazon and the governor and everybody agreed yesterday on a way to move forward.” The company, he said, had agreed to keep talking.
“It was a productive meeting,” Appelbaum added. “Shame on them. The arrogance of saying ‘do it my way or not at all.’ ”
Some unions supported the deal, and even those who had been opposed appeared willing to work with Amazon if the company agreed to not actively work against the unionization of its employees in New York.
An Amazon representative, during one City Council hearing, pointedly said the company would not agree to such terms.
The company had enjoyed public support in two polls of voters, conducted by Quinnipiac University and Siena College, after the deal was announced. While the subsidies were less popular, the deal to bring Amazon, and tens of thousands of jobs, was popular across a variety of groups.
In recent days, backers of the deal had begun mobilizing and some could be seen wearing pins in support of Amazon.
State Senator Michael Gianaris, a vocal critic who was chosen for a state board with the power to veto the deal, said the decision revealed Amazon’s unwillingness to work with the Queens community it had wanted to join.
“Like a petulant child, Amazon insists on getting its way or takes its ball and leaves,” said Gianaris, a Democrat, whose district includes Long Island City. “The only thing that happened here is that a community that was going to be profoundly affected by their presence started asking questions.”
While small protests greeted the company after its initial announcement in November, the first inkling that opposition had taken hold among the city’s Democratic politicians came during a hostile City Council hearing the next month. Protesters filled the seats, unfurled banners, and chanted against the company. Not a single council member spoke up in defense of the deal or the company.
Company executives fared no better at their second appearance, in January, though supporters, lobbyists, and consultants were better prepared. Unions supporting the deal, including the powerful 32BJ Service Employees International Union and the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, held a rally outside City Hall immediately after one by opponents.
Still, the company did not hire a single New Yorker as an employee to represent it in discussions with local groups. Its main representatives traveled between Washington and Manhattan, and only one had moved into an apartment to work with community members and foster support.
To attract Amazon, city and state officials offered the company one of the largest-ever incentive packages in exchange for a much larger return in jobs and tax revenue.
They agreed to remake plans for the Queens waterfront and move a distribution center for school lunches. They even agreed to give Bezos access to a helipad.
Under the plan, within 15 years the company could occupy as much as 8 million square feet of office space, including office buildings for as many as 40,000 workers.