‘I know this is exactly what the community needs’: LIC business owners explain effort to revive Amazon plan

Eric Benaim is once again  circulating a petition to revive the Amazon HQ2 project in Long Island City.
File photo

Gianna Cerbone threw herself into the effort to pave the way for Amazon to become part of the only neighborhood she’s ever known, even if it cost her some regular customers at her Vernon Boulevard restaurant, Manducatis Rustica, in Long Island City.

The 51-year-old served on the Community Advisory Committee and hosted several get-togethers between small business owners and Amazon executives knowing their enormous HQ2 campus would serve as an anchor for the community. That’s why she was shocked, devastated, upset and disappointed when the e-commerce giant walked away from the deal on Valentine’s Day — and now fighting to get Amazon to revive its plans for Queens.

“I’ve invested my entire life in this neighborhood and I know this is exactly what the community needs and the economic impact would be enormous, not just for us but all of Queens,” Cerbone said. “Everyone is using the wrong verbiage, and it’s costing us 25,000 jobs and $28 billion in new tax revenues that could fix the infrastructure here.”

That is why Cerbone was proud to sign her name along with many of her neighbors and community leaders on an open letter to Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos published in The New York Times Friday urging him “to reconsider, so that we can move forward together.”

“I wouldn’t fight for something that wouldn’t be great for this community,” Cerbone said. “We worked very hard on this and the Amazon people were speaking with us about what they could do for this community. It’s quite sad that a couple of individuals would use misinformation that drove them away.”

Eric Benaim, the co-founder and CEO of Modern Spaces, modified an online petition he started two weeks ago to show support for Amazon’s HQ2, with the open letter to Bezos, which he also signed. The petition on Change.org is closing in on 5,000 signatures.

“I think we have a 5 to 10 percent chance to bring them back,” Benaim said. “I’ve been working for two weeks to bring them back and you never say never. Businesspeople always walk away from the table, and sometimes they come back.”

Several of the LIC residents that signed the letter have expressed disappointment with state Senator Michael Gianaris and Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer for being fierce opponents of the deal and causing Amazon’s retreat. QNS reached out to both and is awaiting responses.

“When we expect our leaders to do the right thing they go and do just the opposite,” Hunters Point Community Development Corporation President Mark Christie said. “In doing so, they seem to forget the silent majority.”

That sentiment was seconded by Queens Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas Grech, who also signed the letter, blaming the grass-roots organizations such as Make the Road New York, New York Communities for Change and Queens Neighborhoods United for protesting the Amazon deal during City Council hearings.

“To think a small band of loud and short-sighted people can shout down the silent majority,” Grech said. “Since Feb. 15, myself and a large number business and community leaders have banded together to push back against vitriol and instead push and cajole the governor to do everything he can to get Amazon back to the table.”

Governor Cuomo has place numerous phone calls to Bezos and other Amazon executives in the hopes of doing just that.

“I’ve had many conversations with Amazon. I hope they reconsider,” Cuomo told reporters Thursday. “It would be helpful if the state Senate said that they would approve it; that would be helpful.”

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins did that in a statement released on Feb. 28.

“I have always been clear that I support job creation and was disappointed with Amazon’s decision and hoped they would reconsider,” she said. “I have also repeatedly indicated my willingness to work with Amazon in the best interests of our state and affected communities.”

Asked if the developments in Albany and the letter to Bezos would help bring Amazon back, Grech said, “I don’t know, but I’m an eternal optimist.”

And then he added, “We should never chase 25,000 jobs out of our city and our county.”

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