Amazon’s HQ2? Make That Q for Queens
Posted November 5, 2018 11:09 p.m. EST
NEW YORK — New York City last week announced $180 million in new spending on Long Island City to bolster transit, fix the sewer system and attract new, good-paying jobs. Now it appears that spending was, in part, deliberately timed.
Amazon is nearing a deal to name Long Island City, a fast-growing neighborhood on the western edge of Queens, as one of two locations that would together house as many as 50,000 employees in its ever-expanding workforce, according to two people briefed on the negotiations.
The other location in Amazon’s plans is outside Washington in the Virginia suburb of Crystal City, according to one of the people briefed.
But the choice of Long Island City is deep in New York, a subway ride across the East River from Midtown Manhattan.
The arrival of Amazon in Long Island City could finally establish New York as a technology hub on par with its West Coast rivals. But some residents worry about the effects of so many newcomers on a neighborhood already straining from rapid growth.
The neighborhood has seen a swift rise in new building that began with a single high-rise office tower, opened in 1990 and belonging to Citigroup. If the name Long Island City once seemed aspirational, in recent years it has been more descriptive: Apartment towers now dot the skyline, crowding around the elevated No. 7 subway train.
Forty-one apartment buildings have been built there since 2010, according to an analysis by the city. Last year, more apartments were built in Long Island City than in any other neighborhood in New York. The reasons, in large measure, are its proximity to Manhattan, its relatively low cost and the views.
“You can almost reach out from Hunters Point Park and feel like you’re going to touch 34th Street in Manhattan,” the local councilman, Jimmy Van Bramer, said of the proximity to Midtown Manhattan. There is also a collection of amenities tailor-made for technology employees: the MoMA PS1 contemporary art center, several breweries and a place where you can learn trapeze.
The northern part of the neighborhood is also home to the Queensbridge Houses, the largest public housing project in the country.
The proposed locations of any Amazon buildings within the neighborhood were not clear.
A person briefed on the discussions said city officials took Amazon executives looking for a new headquarters, known as HQ2, around the area three times, in April, July and September. In one instance, the person said, they toured on Citi Bikes, the local bike-share program; in another, they took a sunset ride on one of the city’s new fast ferries.
“Whether it’s Amazon or something else, we’re growing,” said Elizabeth Lusskin, president of the LIC Partnership, the local development corporation. “You do have to plan thoughtfully.”
All the building — and the new residents who come with it — has put pressure on the area’s infrastructure. New schools are needed, according to the city, and the subways are packed.
“The 7 train is overloaded today, and we can’t sell Long Island City as being transportation rich,” Van Bramer said, sounding a note of caution. “The people who work at Amazon are going to be competing for space on that train.”
It was not clear whether the discussions with Amazon included promises to improve or expand transit options. The office of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo declined to comment on the company’s plans, which have yet to be formally announced. A spokesman for Mayor Bill de Blasio also declined to comment. Cuomo and de Blasio met separately with Amazon executives late last month, according to two people familiar with the discussions.
But the city’s new spending plan, released last Tuesday, included one possibility for increasing transportation options that could involve a new train stop in the heart of the area.
“Work with MTA/LIRR and Amtrak to study the feasibility of creating a new rail station in Sunnyside Yard at Queens Boulevard,” read the city’s plan, referring to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Long Island Rail Road, both of which use space in nearby rail yards.
A person briefed on the discussions said that while the plan had been in the works before, city officials wanted to be sure to release it before Amazon made a decision.
Members of the local community board said they were worried about the effects an Amazon headquarters could have on cultural institutions, surrounding manufacturing operations and other local businesses, already under pressure from rising land costs.
“There was grumbling before,” said Sheila Lewandowski, 54, a longtime resident and director of the Chocolate Factory Theater Dance Company, a modern dance venue in the area that has faced the threat of displacement.
And then, she added, there is the issue of the sewers. Half of the city’s proposed new spending, about $95 million, is for sewers.
“We do have sewage problems,” Lewandowski said. “They’re backing up. If we’re going to bring in this major corporation, we better invest a lot more in infrastructure.”