By Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech
New York City and state plan to fund $650 million worth of infrastructure improvements to smoothen the integration of Amazon’s HQ2 into Long Island City, CEO and President of the Economic Development Corporation (EDC) James Patchett announced Monday at a Queens local media press conference.
The funds will be collected over the next 40 years and their allotment will be determined by Queens residents according to Patchett and Empire State Development (ESD) President, CEO and Commissioner Howard Zemsky. The city will use 50 percent of property taxes (PILOTS) generated from Amazon’s new buildings to create the Long Island City Infrastructure Fund.
After an outcry from Queens local officials about the development corporations providing little to no transparency during the Amazon deal, both Patchett and Zemsky vehemently stressed that they wanted a “community public process” about Amazon’s future influence in the neighborhood.
“I think that a lot of folks have had reactions to this and think that this is a fully designed project, the truth of the matter is — it’s not,” said Patchett. “This is what has been determined: that Amazon is coming to the city and they have sites on the waterfront, and what’s locked in are the benefits you have heard about.”
The EDC and ESD are planning to step into local community board meetings and hold at least two public forums to gather public feedback about where to best use funds. According to Patchett, the dates of these visits and forums will be announced some time next week, after the Thanksgiving holiday.
“We need to work with the community to determine where the buildings will go on the site, how many square feet will actually go there, what the height limits will be, how they’ll be designed, how’ll they’ll be integrated with the community, how they will be accessed from the existing streets,” said Patchett. “All of that will be a part of the conversation we are gonna have in the next 14 months.”
According to the EDC, Amazon will donate space for a new 600-seat public school, build 3.5 acres of open space by the waterfront at Anable Basin, build 260,000 square feet of affordable light industrial space, 25,000 square feet for nonprofit art uses along with retail and restaurant spaces operated by local businesses. Additional benefits to the neighborhood besides the 40,000 new jobs that are expected to be created over the next 25 years.
Only one Queens elected official was present during the press conference: state Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, who supports Amazon’s decision to have one of its two HQ2 location in Long Island City.
The assemblywoman mentioned funds could be used to create a new hospital in western Queens and for precinct improvements.
Like Patchett and Zemsky, Nolan stressed that the benefits of Amazon would be worth the neighborhood’s inevitable growing pains.
“No project is perfect,” Nolan said. “It will certainly be a challenge but it is a great positive for Long Island City.”
Amazon will set up shop in 5,000 square feet of at One Court Square starting in 2019 but will only occupy that space for year. New buildings will be constructed around Anable Basin with a new headquarters building expected to finished by 2022. For the four years until the new headquarters is created, Long Island City will see Amazon employees filling existing buildings.
In the outline presented by the EDC and ESD, there is no mention how money would be used to address an inevitable housing shortage that will arise from the huge amount of future commercial expansion. According to the EDC and ESD, the city will spend $3-5 million to launch a new Queens-focused program to train local NYCHA residents in careers in IT, cybersecurity and web development, as what appears to be an effort to prevent the displacement of low-income residents.
In an effort to make sure that Amazon does prove to be a positive newcomer to Long Island City and New York state, the state has offered the company performance-based incentives totaling $1.705 billion, which includes $1.2 billion in tax credits through the Excelsior Jobs Program, which are tied to Amazon’s promise to create 25,000 new jobs and no less than $2.3 billion in investments over 10 years.
The state will also provide the company with $505 million in grant funding tied to the company’s initial commitment of creating $40,000 jobs and $3.6 billion in total investment.
Despite the funds being allocated toward the project, Zemsky reminded the press of remarks Governor Andrew Cuomo made when announcing the Amazon HQ2 deal last week.
“For every dollar we give Amazon, we get $9 back,” Zemsky said.