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Amazon mails open letter to New Yorkers touting HQ2 benefits

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“The only reason they’re mailing these out and spending this money is because our voices of opposition have been heard and felt,” said one City Councilmember.

Long Island City, Queens
Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Amid a wave a scrutiny over the deal to build its massive new headquarters in Long Island City, Amazon went on the offensive, mailing an open letter to Queens residents touting the project’s benefits for the neighborhood and city.

The letter was originally printed in the January 5 edition of the New York Post and the New York Daily News, and mailed out in the form of a “Happy New Year” flier to some Queens residents who swiftly took to social media, slamming the e-commerce giant for introducing itself as “your future neighbors at Amazon.” Among them was Jimmy Van Bramer, the City Council member representing Long Island City.

“The only reason they’re mailing these out and spending this money is because our voices of opposition have been heard and felt,” Bramer said, holding the mailer in a video shared to Twitter. “This is about money. This is about power. But just as we did in 2018, we’re going to fight like heck in 2019. Your voice has got to be heard.”

In the mailer, the company outlines what it refers to as the start of “a long and mutually beneficial partnership between New Yorkers and Amazon.”

The letter, which was also posted online, highlights what it says are the “details of the investment,” including bringing 25,000 new jobs with an average salary of more than $150,000 over 10 years, career training for locals, and more than $27 billion in new tax revenue over the next 25 years.

An Amazon spokesperson said the mailer was meant to educate locals on how the project will impact Long Island City and surrounding neighborhoods.

“We want to make sure New Yorkers know the details of our investment and how it benefits them. Our new headquarters will directly create 25,000 new jobs and tens of thousands of indirect jobs in construction, food service, human resources and retail,” the Amazon spokesperson said in a statement to Curbed.

“It will generate more than $27 billion in new tax revenue that otherwise wouldn’t exist and can be used to help improve subways and buses, build more affordable housing, improve schools, and more.”

The tech giant announced in November that it will split its second North American headquarters in Long Island City, Queens and Crystal City, Virginia. Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio brokered the deal to bring the $2.5 billion, four million-square-foot campus to Long Island City. But the announcement was met with swift criticism.

Amazon is set to receive some $3 billion in subsidies from the city and state, in part from the Relocation and Employment Assistance Program and the Industrial and Commercial Abatement Program, which are used to draw companies to areas outside of Manhattan’s core with tax credits and property tax abatements, respectively.

While Amazon could generate billions in additional tax revenue for the city over 25 years, local elected officials and community activists have emerged in staunch opposition to the deal, raising concerns over the staggering incentives the company is set to receive along with the influx of employees that will further strain Long Island City’s already overburdened infrastructure.

Opponents reacted to the flier on Twitter:

On Monday, two members of the Seattle City Council—Lisa Herbold and Teresa Mosqueda —flew to New York to urge elected officials to pass legislation addressing transportation and housing issues that will undoubtedly follow in the wake of Amazon’s new headquarters. The Seattle representatives spoke at an event hosted by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which is working to organize workers at an Amazon fulfillment center in Staten Island.

“I hope [New York] can learn from Seattle’s experiences and create a set of new expectations for corporate responsibility that can benefit the working poor who work for Amazon and other people priced out of housing in high cost cities everywhere,” Herbold told Bloomberg.

Mosqueda pressed Bramer and Queens State Sen. Michael Gianaris to act now to generate revenue needed for affordable housing and warned the city not to take the company’s philanthropic gestures as a silver-bullet solution to addressing the area’s complicated and costly housing and transit challenges, Bloomberg reported.

Amazon could begin construction within a year although its plans require state and local review. After the chorus of concern over the deal grew too loud to ignore, the New York City Council held a hearing to review the plan on December 13. A second council hearing is slated for January 30.