New York’s governor and prominent business leaders are making a last-ditch effort to lure Amazon back to the Big Apple after the company abruptly abandoned plans for a new headquarters there following some loud local opposition.
In a full-page advertisement in Friday’s New York Times, 80 political and industry leaders pleaded with Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos to reconsider.
New York governor Andrew Cuomo, the project’s biggest booster, said he has been talking to Amazon executives in hopes of reviving the company’s plan for a massive work campus in the New York City neighborhood of Long Island City, just across the river from Manhattan, in the borough of Queens. The plan for Amazon’s second headquarters there would have employed 25,000 people, and Cuomo acknowledged on Friday that losing the project had been “a blunder” that has caused outrage.
“This is a blow to the state and I’ll do everything I can to reverse it, and you punch until you hear the bell,” Cuomo said Friday on local public radio station WNYC. He conceded he did not expect the company would actually reverse course. “I don’t believe that they will reconsider, but I am hopeful,” he said.
Amazon called off the project after it was met with fierce political opposition from some elected officials and local activists, who decried plans to give the corporation up to $3bn in tax breaks and subsidies.
A last straw for the company may have been the appointment of a fierce foe, the state senator Michael Gianaris, who represents Long Island City, to a state board where he would have had veto power over the development plan.
Cuomo promised on Friday he would “personally guarantee” the project’s approval if the company was willing to come back, but said executives have given him no indication they are still interested. “This was a mistake. It was a blunder,” he said. “Everywhere I go, New Yorkers are outraged.”
The letter to Bezos was signed by business owners, tenant leaders at Queens public housing projects, the heads of supportive unions, several members of Congress and the former New York city mayor David Dinkins.
“We know the public debate that followed the announcement of the Long Island City project was rough and not very welcoming,” the supporters wrote. “Opinions are strong in New York – sometimes strident. We consider it part of the New York charm! But when we commit to a project as important as this, we figure out how to get it done in a way that works for everyone.”
Amazon has moved forward with plans for a campus in northern Virginia, which it chose along with New York after a national competition to host the company’s second headquarters. The company declined to comment on Friday.
Supporters are hoping desperately to convince Amazon the “Valentine’s Day breakup” was all one big misunderstanding, convinced the tech giant, hearing the legendary New York City belligerence, assumed leaders didn’t want them. But in the New York political scene, such denunciation is often simply the opening negotiating salvo from politicians willing ultimately to make a deal.
“New York City has always had a reputation for being overly aggressive and downright rude, and unfortunately our local elected officials proved that to be true. That does not take away from the fact that it’s a tremendous place to operate a business,” said Frank Raffaele, the owner of coffee shop chain Coffeed and one of the signers of the letter.
“There was a lot of posturing. At the end of the day, I do believe that our local elected officials simply overplayed their hand. They wanted Amazon to come to the table. They wanted to have a laundry list of asks, and they wanted to negotiate a different deal.”
“The opponents were loud, and it came across that there was this groundswell of opposition against Amazon, which is not the case,” said Carlo Scissura, the president of the New York Building Congress, who also signed the letter.
The latest pleas from Cuomo – who offered to change his name to “Amazon Cuomo” if the company came to New York – drew mockery on social media. Observers noted the latest developments echoed an article published two weeks ago in the satirical publication the Onion, headlined: “‘Wait, Mr Bezos, You Forgot Your Tax Subsidy!’ Says Andrew Cuomo Running Behind Limo.”
“When you really, really like someone and they don’t really like you back, yet you still keep pursuing them…” Jonathan Westin, the director of New York Communities for Change, which fought the project, said in a tweet.
But Scissura said there was nothing desperate about the effort to smooth things over with Amazon. “We want business, jobs, economic activity in New York. That’s not desperate, that’s forward thinking,” he said.
Even if the company does not come back, the business leaders wanted to sent the message to other businesses that New York is not a hostile environment. “It also lets other national and global companies know that New York is open for business,” Scissura said.