Our long national nightmare is (almost) over. No, I’m not talking about the media barrage of vitriolic and sometimes violent political messaging in the run-up to today’s election. I’m talking about the saga of Amazon’s “HQ2,” the process of selecting a location for the behemoth company’s second headquarters — which, it turns out, will never happen as promised anyway.
The Wall Street Journal broke the news over the weekend that Amazon entered into “late-stage talks” with three locations — Dallas, Texas; Arlington, Va.; and New York City. By Monday, the New York Times reported that Dallas was no longer in the running and that the company planned to split its original HQ2 between the two remaining locations, effectively halving the original 50,000 jobs and $5 billion of investment the company promised to each location. New York City’s Long Island City site and Arlington’s Crystal City site are reportedly the “winners.”
Many expressed frustration with the decision to split the original HQ2 plan, given that Amazon dangled the jobs and investment numbers to extract promises of huge tax breaks and other incentives as part of HQ2 proposals. Business Insider called it “Breaking A Central Promise of HQ2.” People are furious, the site said.
Unfazed, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was still eagerly awaiting Amazon’s official announcement when he spoke to the Times on Monday. “I’ll change my name to Amazon Cuomo if that’s what it takes,” said Cuomo on Monday, according to the Times. “Because it would be a great economic boost.”
Nearly 240 municipalities vied for HQ2. The list later narrowed to 20. Most bids were not made public. (A court order forced Pittsburgh to make its bid public.) Muckrock, a nonprofit that facilitates investigative reporting, compiled a database on various HQ2 bids as information became available. Real estate investors reportedly started speculating on which city would eventually win the contest, hoping to take advantage of a sudden need for housing to accommodate HQ2 workers.
Neither of the final site’s full package of incentives has been disclosed.
“As we documented in a study last April, the Crystal City and Long Island City subsidy offers are among the many HQ2 bids that remain completely hidden,” said Good Jobs First, a nonprofit that tracks corporate subsidies, in a statement. “Citizens have no idea what their elected officials have promised to a company headed by the richest person on earth.”
Arlington, located across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., was chosen despite growing resistance to HQ2 across the region.
New York City put up four neighborhoods as possible HQ2 sites in its bid. The Long Island City neighborhood, somewhat confusingly named, is the westernmost neighborhood of the Borough of Queens, located along the East River waterfront, with a smattering of fresh new parks with storybook views of the Manhattan skyline across the river. On paper, the neighborhood has good subway access to Midtown Manhattan, though in practice weekend maintenance and daily delays have become the norm with the city’s aging subway system. Some will shudder at the thought of 25,000 new workers in the area.
Still, the neighborhood’s attractiveness, as well as a glut of former industrial properties, especially along the waterfront, have led to a building boom. As the Times reported, there have been 41 new apartment buildings built in Long Island City since 2010, and last year, more new apartments were built in Long Island City than in any other neighborhood in New York City.
Not to mention, the NYC Economic Development Corporation, Amtrak, and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority just last month kicked off a public process to craft a shared vision for the redevelopment of Sunnyside Yards, a massive 180-acre train storage and maintenance yard heavily used by Amtrak and two regional commuter rail services. The yard cuts through a swath of neighborhoods in Western Queens, including Long Island City. The big idea is to build a deck over the yard and to decide what comes next by drafting a master plan with community input. At the city’s first public meeting last month for the Sunnyside Yards planning process, some were optimistic about having a brand new piece of land to bolster an already crowded area, but others were concerned about overdevelopment in the neighborhoods around the yards, City Limits reported.
Oscar is Next City's senior economics correspondent. He previously served as Next City’s editor from 2018-2019, and was a Next City Equitable Cities Fellow from 2015-2016. Since 2011, Oscar has covered community development finance, community banking, impact investing, economic development, housing and more for media outlets such as Shelterforce, B Magazine, Impact Alpha, and Fast Company.