Gone in a New York minute: How the Ama­zon deal fell apart

Sun.Star Pampanga - - BUSINESS! - EW YORK (AP) — In early Novem­ber, word be­gan to leak that Ama­zon was se­ri­ous about choos­ing New York to build a gi­ant new cam­pus. The city was ea­ger to lure the com­pany and its thou­sands of high-pay­ing tech jobs, of­fer­ing bil­lions in tax in­cen­tives and li

Even Gov­er­nor An­drew Cuomo got in on the ac­tion: “I’ll change my name to Ama­zon Cuomo if that’s what it takes,” he joked at the time.

Then Ama­zon made it of­fi­cial: It chose the Long Is­land City neigh­bor­hood of Queens to build a $2.5 bil­lion cam­pus that could house 25,000 work­ers, in ad­di­tion to new of­fices planned for north­ern Vir­ginia. Cuomo and New York Mayor Bill de Bla­sio, Democrats who have been po­lit­i­cal ad­ver­saries for years, trum­peted the de­ci­sion as a ma­jor coup af­ter edg­ing out more than 230 other pro­pos­als.

But what they didn’t ex­pect was the protests, the hos­tile public hear­ings and the dis­parag­ing tweets that would come in the next three months, even­tu­ally leading to Ama­zon’s dra­matic Valen­tine’s Day breakup with New York.

Im­me­di­ately af­ter Ama­zon’s Nov. 12 an­nounce­ment, crit­i­cism started to pour in. The deal in­cluded $1.5 bil­lion in spe­cial tax breaks and grants for the com­pany, but a closer look at the to­tal pack­age re­vealed it to be worth at least $2.8 bil­lion. Some of the same politi­cians who had signed a let­ter to woo Ama­zon were now balk­ing at the tax in­cen­tives.

“Of­fer­ing mas­sive cor­po­rate wel­fare from scarce public re­sources to one of the wealth­i­est cor­po­ra­tions in the world at a time of great need in our state is just wrong,” said New York State Sen. Michael Gia­naris and New York City Coun­cil­man Jimmy Van Bramer, Democrats who rep­re­sent the Long Is­land City area, in a joint state­ment.

The next day, CEO Jeff Be­zos was on the cover of The New York Post in a car­toon-like il­lus­tra­tion, hang­ing out of a he­li­copter, hold­ing money bags in each hand, with cash bil­low­ing above the sky­line. “QUEENS RAN­SOM,” the head­line screamed. The New York Times ed­i­to­rial board, mean­while, called the deal a “bad bar­gain” for the city: “We won’t know for 10 years whether the promised 25,000 jobs will ma­te­ri­al­ize,” it said.

Anti-Ama­zon ral­lies were planned for the next week. Pro­test­ers stormed a New York Ama­zon book­store on the day af­ter Thanks­giv­ing and then went to a rally on the steps of a court­house near the site of the new head­quar­ters in the pour­ing rain. Some held card­board boxes with Ama­zon’s smile logo turned up­side down.

They had a long list of griev­ances: the deal was done se­cre­tively; Ama­zon, one of the world’s most valu­able com­pa­nies, didn’t need nearly $3 bil­lion in tax in­cen­tives; ris­ing rents could push peo­ple out of the neigh­bor­hood; and the com­pany was op­posed to union­iza­tion.

The he­li­pad kept com­ing up, too: Ama­zon, in its deal with the city, was promised it could build a spot to land a he­li­copter on or near the new of­fices.

At the first public hear­ing in De­cem­ber, which turned into a hos­tile, three­hour in­ter­ro­ga­tion of two Ama­zon ex­ec­u­tives by city law­mak­ers, the he­li­pad was men­tioned more than a dozen times. The im­age of high-paid ex­ec­u­tives buzzing by a nearby low­in­come hous­ing project be­came a sym­bol of cor­po­rate greed.

Queens res­i­dents soon found post­cards from Ama­zon in their mail­boxes, trum­pet­ing the ben­e­fits of the project. Gia­naris sent his own ver­sion, call­ing the com­pany “Sca­ma­zon” and urg­ing peo­ple to call Be­zos and tell him to stay in Seat­tle.

At a sec­ond city coun­cil hear­ing in Jan­uary, Ama­zon’s vice pres­i­dent for public pol­icy, Brian Huse­man, sub­tly sug­gested that per­haps the com­pany’s de­ci­sion to come to New York could be re­versed.

“We want to in­vest in a com­mu­nity that wants us,” he said.

Then came a sign that Ama­zon’s op­po­nents might ac­tu­ally suc­ceed in de­rail­ing the deal: In early Fe­bru­ary, Gia­naris was tapped for a seat on a lit­tle-known state panel that of­ten has to ap­prove state fund­ing for big eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment projects. That meant if Ama­zon’s deal went be­fore the board, Gia­naris could kill it.

“I’m not look­ing to ne­go­ti­ate a bet­ter deal,” Gia­naris said at the time. “I am against the deal that has been pro­posed.”

Cuomo had the power to block Gia­naris’ ap­point­ment, but he didn’t in­di­cate whether he would take that step.

Mean­while, Ama­zon’s own doubts about the project started to show. On Feb. 8, The Wash­ing­ton Post re­ported that the com­pany was hav­ing sec­ond thoughts about the Queens lo­ca­tion.

On Wed­nes­day, Cuomo bro­kered a meet­ing with four top Ama­zon ex­ec­u­tives and the lead­ers of three unions crit­i­cal of the deal.

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