Cuomo pleads with Amazon to reconsider Long Island City deal

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Update 3/1/19, 1:10pm: According to Crain’s, Governor Cuomo said today on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show, “They have given no indication that they would reconsider. I have no reason to believe that Amazon is reconsidering. Would I like them to? Certainly. But I have no reason to believe that.”

Amazon’s Valentine’s Day breakup with New York City has been rough on Governor Andrew Cuomo; the New York Times reports that Cuomo has continued to beseech the retail giant to build one of its two new headquarters in Long Island City, Queens, as it had announced plans to do last November. According to the Times, Cuomo has privately assured Amazon officials that he would ease the company’s path to any needed approvals and is “working intensely behind the scenes”–including a personal pitch to founder Jeff Bezos–to get Amazon to reconsider.

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Being left at the altar hasn’t sat well with the man who at one point joked that he would rename the polluted Newtown Creek the Amazon River as a way to lure the tech company to Queens. Cuomo, whose original proposal–accompanied by nearly $3 billion in grants and incentives–got a yes from the world’s most valuable company, who announced plans to create one of its new headquarters within the five boroughs, then later reconsidered the betrothal after protests from a number of community groups and unions who objected to the sweetheart deal and its massive tax incentives. In addition, an offer to create a general project plan to rezone the chosen site, a process that does not require approval from the City Council, didn’t sit well with elected officials. Amazon’s anti-union policies also raised objections from many of the city’s labor advocates.

The recent conversation between Cuomo and Bezos was apparently the first between the two that addressed Amazon’s plans for Queens or the company’s abrupt about-face. Since the latter was announced, Cuomo has been adamant about his conviction that support for the project was broader than it may have appeared. He said in a radio interview Tuesday that “It was a vocal minority opposition. Seventy percent of the people support Amazon.”

Dramatic public pleading joined private promises: A full page ad, to appear in Friday’s Times, implores Bezos to give NYC another chance and build a Queens campus. The letter, signed by over 70 unions who support the Amazon deal, local businesses and business leaders, community groups and elected officials, assures that Cuomo will “take personal responsibility for the project’s state approval,” and that Mayor Bill de Blasio “will work together with the governor to manage the community development process.”

Another open letter, this one from New York State Budget Director Robert Mujica and presumably aimed at the public-at-large, admits that while “in retrospect, the State and the City could have done more to communicate the facts of the project,” opposing the Amazon deal “was not even good politics.” The letter calls the missed connection a “blow to our reputation of being ‘open for business.'”

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Cuomo isn’t the only one taking a personal approach: As 6sqft recently reported, the owner of a Long Island City barbecue restaurant flew to Seattle on Monday in an attempt to revive the deal. Josh Bowen, who owns neighborhood joint John Brown Smokehouse, met with executives from the company for two hours. During the meeting, the businessman asked if they would reconsider their decision to pull out of the project. According to Bowen, the response was, “Never say never.”

As of yet, though, Amazon has offered no sign that it will rekindle the deal which the mega-company had promised would bring 25,000 full-time high-paying jobs to New York City by 2029 in addition to hiring 30 New Yorkers living at NYCHA housing developments for customer service positions and fund computer science classes at 130 high schools across the city. Amazon had expected to open 4 million square feet of office space with the possibility of expanding to 8 million square feet. According to the company, they could eventually create 40,000 jobs over the next 15 years.

When Amazon abandoned the deal, an exasperated Cuomo dismissed opponents’ assertion that the aforementioned $3 billion tax break might have been better spent in other ways as “ignorant,” and aligned his sentiments with President Trump, who slammed the “radical left.”

Once Amazon announced NYC as its HQ2 pick along with Arlington, Virginia, the proposal would have enabled the company to move into One Court Square beginning in 2019, occupying up to 1.5 million square feet of space. The company could then spread out across two area districts known as Anable Basin, one at its commercial core and one along the waterfront. Ferry access at the second zone would help connect to the Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island. Amazon would donate a new 600-seat school and 3.5 acres of public waterfront open space connecting to the existing Gantry Plaza State Park.

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It’s worth noting that the jilted city’s plan to bring a thousand residential units and a mix of industrial space to Long Island City is back on the table according to James Patchett, president of the city’s Economic Development Corporation. Patchett said Thursday that the city will forge ahead with its original plan of bringing a mix of businesses and homes to the Queens neighborhood should Bezos refuse to budge on the bust up.

But it won’t be for lack of trying. Case in point: The State Senate’s Democratic majority leader, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who recently expressed her willingness to work with Amazon, withdrew her earlier nomination of State Sen. Michael Gianaris to the Public Authorities Control Board. The appointment would have given the Long Island City representative, who has been one of Amazon’s biggest critics, the ability to nix the HQ2 development project when it came before the board. Stewart-Cousins picked Queens representative Leroy Comrie, whose nomination is more likely to be approved by the governor, to sit on the board instead. Dani Lever, the governor’s communications director, said, “The governor will take over the process and can comfortably assure Amazon the approval will get done.”

According to Crain’s, Governor Cuomo added on the Brian Lehrer Show:

We want all businesses nationwide to know that this was an oddity. Don’t think that if you come to New York, the same thing is going to happen that happened to Amazon. That was a small, vocal minority—that was local petty politics—that governed the day. And we don’t operate that way. This was a mistake; it was a blunder. But we want business. We’re open for business.