LONG ISLAND CITY, NYC — After over a year of searching and pitting U.S. city governments against each other in a race to offer perks and tax breaks, Amazon is reportedly prepared to announce the site of its new second headquarters — or rather, two sites.
As reported in The Wall Street Journal earlier this week, the company plans to divide Amazon HQ2 into two locations. And according to a follow-up piece in The New York Times, one of the two sites will likely be in Long Island City, a formerly industrial and working class-residential area in the borough of Queens.
The neighborhood, located along the borough’s East River waterfront overlooking Manhattan, has already seen a major wave of new luxury developments in the past decade or so — it recently took the top spot for hottest neighborhoods for new development based on permits, according to an analysis by local tech company Localize. However, Amazon’s new campus reportedly opening among its industrial streets could be raise the status of the neighborhood to a more global audience, à la Williamsburg or DUMBO.
Considering the Olympics hosting-style campaign many North American cities ran to be chosen as location of Amazon’s next headquarters, Long Island City (LIC) now occupies a privileged position, along with Crystal City, Virginia near Washington, D.C. (Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos also owns the Washington Post newspaper headquartered in D.C.).
However, the influx of even half of the 50,000 new Amazon employees the company originally promised to house in HQ2, has brought up mixed feelings among LIC locals and real estate experts.
“We locals don’t want them here,” John Cassella, a Long Island City native and broker at Crest Haven Realty, told Inman. “I hope they at least offer benefits and health insurance to workers, but I doubt they will.”
Politically speaking, the pressure the area would face as the location of a large tech campus would also be felt. This is true regardless of the infrastructure funding the city coincidentally announced last week.
When it comes to public transit, Long Island City is currently serviced by several NYC subway stations and two major lines — the 7 train and the G train, as well as ferry service to Manhattan and Brooklyn. However, locals report major crowding of the existing subway lines, which are also likely to get even more riders as nearby Williamsburg, Brooklyn, shuts down its major subway line (the L train) in a year-plus-long repair effort to fix damage from Hurricane Sandy back in 2012.
Furthermore, Long Island City lacks some of the major fixtures of other residential neighborhoods: there are few large grocery stores, and the few public schools in the area are already struggling with overcrowding from the influx of new residents.
“HQ2 has to work for Queens, not just Amazon. We already have an infrastructure deficit in LIC,” New York City council member Jimmy Van Bramer, who represents Sunnyside, Woodside, Long Island City, Astoria and Dutch Kills, told Inman. “We must ask how such a complex would impact the people who live in the surrounding neighborhoods. This isn’t a done deal. The local community must be heard here.”
Amazon did announce a national wage increase up to $15 per hour earlier this month following years of criticism, and just ahead of the HQ2 reports. The company has been advertising the wage increase through the city’s media outlets, we’ve noted, as recently as last week.
“I’m kind of conflicted,” Sabrina Khan, who grew up in Astoria and now rents in Long Island City, says.” This is great for homeowners in LIC — people like my parents who worked hard to save up for a house here many years ago and now will likely see their home values go up.”
However, Khan also worries that millennials like herself hoping to “buy in” will have an even harder time in Queens now. “Those who can barely save enough for a down payment on any sort of property in LIC are kind of screwed,” she says. “I’m also worried about my rent skyrocketing once high earners in tech move in to the area. I can’t even imagine what low income families in the area will experience.”
Similarly Nick Water, an architect and community advocate who hails from neighboring Astoria, said he was surprised the area was hand-picked by Amazon but understands why given its current boom. “Who doesn’t want to be in Queens these days?” referring to the transformation the western part of the borough has seen in the past decade. “You can’t stop development, but you can work to preserve and provide resources to local culture and communities.”
At the end of the day, HQ2 might import the age old Silicon Valley problem to Queens: displacing locals and importing talent in without creating many jobs for those who already living in the area, as promised.
As far as real estate development goes, the luxury high rises that fill the Long Island City skylines are predicted to “fill up a lot quicker,” as one building manager in the neighborhood, who preferred to remain anonymous, put it. “I think it’ll help push LIC’s development projects faster than the rate they’ve been going. It’s a lot easier to do with 50,000 new people at once than gradually over the years.”
Still, others are hoping the arrival of the Amazon clan will help elevate the neighborhood’s young cultural and nightlife scenes, which has been lagging in comparison to say, Brooklyn’s Bushwick or nearby Greenpoint.
“There is also a collection of amenities tailor-made for technology employees: the MoMA PS1 contemporary art center, several breweries and a place where you can learn trapeze,” The New York Times noted in its report.
One Queens native, who works in Long Island City as a doorman in a newly-opened high rise, agrees that Amazon HQ2’s arrival will help liven up its existing commerce and cultural scenes.
“Wherever they put the new Amazon building, it will definitely replace the iconic Citi tower as the neighborhood’s corporate anchor,” he said.
Not to mention, the increase in foot traffic and the impact it will have on local businesses, such as restaurants and bars being incentivized to stay open later, for example.
Most importantly, Water notes, is that Amazon will acknowledge the second wave of post-gentrification development it will inevitably bring to Queens and “pay its dues.”
“I want to see efforts to make sure there is affordable housing and high quality affordable food in the area for the people it will likely employ,” he said. “Come with a strong community engagement effort to support local arts, culture and businesses and we welcome you!”