The search for a new Amazon headquarters may be nearing its end, as the tech giant is reportedly close to closing deals to set up two new offices in Long Island City, Queens, and the Crystal City area of Arlington, Virginia. The company announced in 2017 that they were looking for a location for a second headquarters that would employ up to 50,000 people, since they were growing faster than they could hire at their Seattle base.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo told reporters on Monday that he’s doing everything he can to court Amazon and secure the Long Island City deal, after a cities across the country competed to lure the company with massive tax incentive packages for the past year. “I’ll change my name to Amazon Cuomo if that’s what it takes,” he said. “Because it would be a great economic boost.”
Local residents and community activists are not as enthusiastic as the governor.
“If they bring [tens of thousands of] new corporate employees to Long Island City, then those people are going to have higher incomes and want to live in a convenient location along the 7 [train] line, which is going to put pressure on rents that people in Queens haven’t really dealt with before” says Michael Forest, an organizer with the Queens Anti-Gentrification Project. “Everyone in Queens is at risk for increasing rent prices if this happens. It’s a scary prospect.”
Long Island City, located at the southwest corner of the borough, is already struggling to accommodate the rapid growth the formerly-industrial neighborhood has seen in the last two decades, with residents consistently speaking out against rezoning proposals that would allow even more build-up. “Since the early 2000s there’s been such a profound change in the skyline of Long Island City, and now we literally live in the shadow of these sky scrapers,” Forest says. “People are pretty much unanimously opposed to big development in Long Island City, but our voices get drowned out as the city keeps moving forward with this agenda.”
“When Amazon drops on Long Island City, it’ll set off a tsunami of hyper-gentrification that will push out whatever remains of the working class — and much of the middle class,” says Jeremiah Moss, who runs the blog Vanishing New York and published a book of the same name, documenting the small businesses and culture lost to gentrification and development. “We’ve seen it in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan when Google moved in. Real estate speculation skyrockets. Landlords get crafty about kicking out rent-regulated tenants. Portfolios of buildings are sold, emptied, and converted to market rate for the new upper class coming in.”
Moss suggests that it’s not only residents that would be hurt by the changing landscape and rising rents brought on by such a large corporate office moving in, but local businesses as well.
“The workers at these big tech companies generally don’t patronize small, local businesses,” Moss says. “They work inside a bubble where all is provided, or where large food-hall type places, like Chelsea Market, spring up to feed them. So we often see small businesses die around these big tech companies.”
In addition to these economic concerns about gentrification and hyper-development, there’s also the practical question of whether the city’s subway system, specifically the 7 line that serves Long Island City, could handle that many new residents. Easily accessible public transportation was one of Amazon’s chief concerns in searching for a new home (or homes) for their new offices, with cities with more developed and efficient public transit quickly pulling to the front of the pack.
Governor Cuomo has been widely criticized for letting New York’s subway system fall into disrepair, with chronic over-crowding and delays turning the public transit system that was once the pride of the city into an unreliable joke.
“The 7 train is overloaded today, and we can’t sell Long Island City as being transportation rich,” local City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer told the New York Times. “The people who work at Amazon are going to be competing for space on that train.”
A new spending plan released last week shows the city intends to upgrade the subway lines serving Long Island City and the surrounding areas, and to look into the possibility of building a new train station in the area. Considering how promises to fix the MTA’s existing problems have gone, those plans may be little comfort to Long Island City residents who wonder how they’ll get to work with thousands more people cramming into subway cars with them every morning.
Arlington residents share similar concerns about how the influx of so many new residents would impact transportation, but also see the possible development as an opportunity to make more money on real estate deals, with real estate agents advising people who want to sell their houses to wait until after an official announcement is made, as it will undoubtedly drive prices up.
“It’s part of every single conversation I have with buyers and sellers,” Arlington-based real estate agent Eli Tucker told CNBC. “I have people coming to me wondering if they’ve missed the boat with Amazon HQ2 and sellers wondering if they should sell now or if they should hold onto their property.”
“The roads are already pretty clogged as it is,” D.C. resident Mark Manivog said. “I’ll be happy, there will be more jobs and more opportunity, but at the same time there is the traffic issue and there is the housing price issue.”