NEW YORK ― Locals are being force-fed a Silicon Valley-sized meal, and all they can hope is that they don’t get poisoned.
This week, Amazon announced its plans for a gigantic corporate campus in the Queens neighborhood of Long Island City. In a matter of 15 years, this waterfront community of 20,000 will absorb a gargantuan development with 8 million square feet of office space ― the equivalent of three Empire State Buildings, The New York Times points out ― and tens of thousands of daily workers.
Meanwhile, Amazon will receive $1.7 billion in incentives from the state and another $1.3 billion from the city, including a taxpayer-funded helicopter pad, just for moving in. In exchange, the company says it will bring around 25,000 new jobs to the area.
At first blush, Amazon’s promise sounds pretty good ― there are job-seekers all over the state, including in Long Island City, just across the East River from Manhattan.
“I can’t wait to apply for a job there!” squealed Jessica Mercado, 32, an operations manager in Long Island City. “I just found out Amazon is coming here, and I was super excited because I already work in the area. I hope that it’s easy to get in, to get hired there.”
But the tradeoff is a big pill to swallow for the neighborhood, which has already seen rising housing prices, subway overcrowding and rapid gentrification over the last two decades. Amazon’s complex stands to add plenty to that congestion.
“They’re just packing more and more people in, more and more residents in, and now you’re gonna add, what, 25,000 workers every day? I don’t see how that works,” said Phil Maurigiannakis, 50, outside a construction shop in Long Island City on Wednesday.
Amazon is great, he said, just not in his backyard.
“I think a facility like that needs a much more suburban neighborhood, farther out, where the roads aren’t crowded, where they can really dedicate the facility to the entire surrounding community. I mean, are they really hiring the local people here?”
How many of those Amazon jobs will actually benefit Long Island City or the borough of Queens remains unclear.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio argue that the return on investment is 9 to 1 based on the projected job numbers alone. In a joint press release, the two Democrats said the Amazon complex would benefit Long Island City residents directly, including those at the Queensbridge Houses, the largest housing project in the country. Amazon will create an onsite employment center “to connect local residents with jobs and training,” and “expand tuition-free tech training” to Queensbridge Houses, according to the release.
But Amazon will draw applicants for many of its open positions from all over the state, and beyond some 1,300 construction jobs, these will be high-end and high-requirement positions, paying an average salary of $150,000, according to a city press release.
Not that locals had any say in the matter. Part of Amazon’s agreement with the city and state will allow it to circumvent City Council ― and Long Island City’s representative on that council, Jimmy Van Bramer ― in the decision-making process regarding the use of local land, according to Curbed.
Essentially, this city, and especially this community, is about to undergo a big experiment it had no say in.
“I just don’t think it’s gonna end well,” said Priya Peña, 21. “There’s just not enough room for that much growth to happen here. I’m trying to leave before it happens.”
Amazon’s incursion may ruin Peña’s dream of graduating from college and sticking around in Queens, where she grew up, she said.
“I’m gonna have to leave New York City, which fucking sucks!” she said. “I love this city so much, but with all these changes, with all the growth that’s happening, it’s awful for the community. A lot of the culture is dying.”
Video by HuffPost Producers Lindsey Davis, Julie Piñero and Mike Caravella, reporting in New York.