Getty ImagesSpencer Platt
Any way you look at it, Amazon fucked the people of New York. The company said it would expand its headquarters into Long Island City in Queens, wooed by $ 3 billion in incentives and promising 25,000 new jobs in return. More than a few New Yorkers shared their thoughts on where Jeff Bezos could stick his headquarters instead. Local politicians and protestors organized against what they perceived as an encroaching threat. Then, Amazon killed the deal, convinced the city wasn’t worth the trouble.
There are some that bemoan that loss. Thomas J. Grech, president and CEO of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, told Esquire via email that he felt “sadness and dismay” that the deal was dead. “An entire generation will look back at the these last few months and ask us why,” he continued. “I hope those that opposed this Amazon deal have the answers to what we lost today.”
But the people who felt threatened by Amazon’s arrival in Queens aren’t mourning. Locals who had warily eyed the influx of wealthy folks snapping up astronomically priced real estate in Long Island City to prepare for HQ2 got a respite. In the end, it was the rich people who got fucked the most, and that was worth celebrating—in New York and beyond.
“The tenants of Queens are sick and tired of corporate industry coming into majority immigrant and working class neighborhoods and gentrifying them,” Johanna Monge, a tenant organizer with the Met Council on Housing, told Esquire over email. She declared victory for Queens tenants already burdened with increasing rents. “I think longterm it sets a precedent—that people power can triumph over corporate-backed politicians and corporations that puts profits before people… Victories like these give fuel to other tenant fights, like our campaign for Universal Rent Control, and should make developers and landlords very nervous about how power is shifting in our city.”
When Amazon first confirmed its intentions three months ago, real estate property prices shot up on the east side of the East River, proposed future home for Amazon HQ2, where space is bountiful and views are top notch. That all but guaranteed the rapidly gentrifying Queens borough would do so even faster—a big “fuck you” to local communities already fighting displacement. Street Easy reported that interest in Long Island City surged by 519 percent after Amazon’s initial announcement was made. “This is like a gift from the gods for the Long Island City condo market,” a luxury real estate agent working in Queens told the Wall Street Journal.
Even before the official announcement, as speculation about Amazon’s plans for New York frothed, two Amazon employees snagged units at a luxury Long Island City building called the Galerie, raising questions about who knew what, and when.
On Thursday, Amazon dropped the bomb: “After much thought and deliberation, we’ve decided not to move forward with our plans to build a headquarters for Amazon in Long Island City, Queens,” the company said in a statement, explaining that backlash from state and local politicians would make working conditions too difficult in the city.
The glee wrought from Amazon’s apparent failure to get on the good side of Queens locals flowed freely on the internet. The mayor said Amazon “threw away that opportunity” to work with communities. Triumphant memes were born, and there was little sympathy for Long Island City’s newest luxury condo owners, whose land grab appeared to have blown up in their own faces. “Can we get a special edition of the New York Times The Hunt column about all the amazon execs who bought condos in LIC already,” writer Rachel Syme tweeted. Money flushed down the luxury high-rise toilet was not cried over by the masses.
Those in luxury real estate were pissed. Bloomberg reported on the “despair” circulating among Long Island City brokerages Thursday. The Real Estate Board of New York expressed its distaste in a statement: “It’s unfortunate that we have lost out on an opportunity to create tens of thousands of jobs for city residents and generate billions of dollars in tax revenue to fund vital services including infrastructure improvements for transportation, schools, and open space.”
But Rafael Jose, a real estate agent who works in Queens and is active with Queens Neighborhoods United, a group advocating against displacement on behalf of local residents and business owners, saw how Amazon’s deal exacerbated issues of gentrification first-hand. “As soon as the Amazon news hit, landlords became much more aggressive, and people became much more worried as far as what their future looked like,” he said. “It was like landlords on steroids.”
Queens residents who lived and worked under yearly leases no longer knew if they could renew them, Jose explained. As the uncertainty mounted, high-rises crowded into the area that provided no amenities or benefits to locals. Now, with Amazon halting its plans, he says locals get a breather. He hopes that instead of pouring future funding into corporations, the city pools money to build community land trusts and small business incubation centers.
Amazon chickening out won’t make the problem go away: Locals will have to continue fighting so they don’t get pushed to the outskirts or even outside of the five boroughs. But for many, how sweet it was to see the richest man in the world and one of the richest companies in the world take their ball and go home. How satisfying it was to laugh at the thought of luxury condos in Long Island City being of no use to Amazon executives. How reassuring it was to know that, in the end, David can still get one over on Goliath.
Amazon said it has no plans to choose another location for its HQ2 expansion, saving locals in other cities that fight for now.
On Thursday night, Queens Neighborhoods United and 13 other grassroots area groups hosted a “Victory Party: We Beat Amazon!” on the streets. There was a Jeff Bezos piñata.