Ama­zon deal died in a New York minute

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - News & Obituaries - BY JOSEPH PISANI As­so­ci­ated Press

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 high­pay­ing tech jobs, of­fer­ing bil­lions in tax in­cen­tives and light­ing the Em­pire State Build­ing in Ama­zon or­ange.

Even Gov. 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 bil- low­ing 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 will­ma­te­ri­al­ize,” 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.

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 ameet­ing with four top Ama­zon ex­ec­u­tives and the lead­ers of three unions crit­i­cal of the deal. The union lead­ers walked away with the im­pres­sion that the par­ties had an agreed upon frame­work for fur­ther ne­go­ti­a­tions, said Stu­art Ap­pel­baum, pres­i­dent of the Re­tail Whole­sale and De­part­ment Store Union.

An Ama­zon rep­re­sen­ta­tive did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment for this story.

The fi­nal blow landed Thurs­day, when Ama­zon an­nounced on a blog post that it was back­ing out, sur­pris­ing the mayor, who had spo­ken to an Ama­zon ex­ec­u­tive Mon­day night and re­ceived “no in­di­ca­tion” that the com­pany would bail.

JEENAH MOON NYT

Un­ex­pected op­po­si­tion prompted Ama­zon to walk away from build­ing a cor­po­rate head­quar­ters in New York City.

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