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By Alyssa Newcomb
Protesters gathered near the site where Amazon plans to build its New York City office complex to voice their concern on Wednesday over the multibillion-dollar incentives being awarded to their future neighbor — and the subsequent impact it will have on housing, rent and transportation.
“I’m going to literally be the closest business to Amazon. They’re opening up on 44th Road. My barber shop is on 44th Road,” said Shawn Dixon, the owner of Otis & Finn, which has been in the neighborhood for the past four years. “The rent goes up, and it’s only going to get worse.”
Dixon held a sign that read, “Welcome Amazon! But first: Fund schools and infrastructure, pass small business protections, local businesses on the Amazon campus. Or stay the helipad out!”
The warning is a reference to the helipad Amazon allegedly asked for — in addition to the $1.7 billion in performance-based tax incentives the retail giant procured from the state of New York. Amazon has also said it will apply for a subsidy program that would give property tax abatements for up to 25 years, along with other tax incentive programs for which it may be eligible.
Protesters gathered Wednesday in Gordan Triangle near Amazon’s future headquarters listened to local politicians who said they weren’t given a seat at the table during negotiations and demanded transparency and a say before Amazon breaks ground in Long Island City.
“Why can Google bring 20,000 jobs here without any public subsidies but Amazon needs $3 billion?” asked state Senator Mike Gianaris. “What is so special about Amazon?”
Congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose district is in Queens, was at freshman orientation in Washington but sent a representative to the protest, who said Ocasio-Cortez opposes the current Amazon deal.
For more than an hour, several local politicians and community activists spoke to a crowd holding signs and offering a chorus of boos every time the helipad and billions of dollars were mentioned.
“We don’t even have heat and hot water in Queensbridge!” one protester shouted. The Queensbridge Houses are the country’s largest housing project and will be Amazon’s new neighbor.
While there were plenty of protesters, not everyone from the area is anti-Amazon. Jim Dillon, who said he has lived in the area for 65 years and lives in a rent stabilized apartment, carried a small sign that read, “Welcome Amazon! And I live in L.I.C.”
“I have no dog in this fight. I’ve never even ordered anything from Amazon,” Dillon said.
“I want jobs for working class people,” he added. “Obviously most of the jobs at Amazon are technocratic and will pay a lot of money, but there will also be jobs for people who are janitors, security guards.”
Still, he said he believed New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo could have made a better deal.
“They gave away the store. There’s no two ways about it,” he said.
Amazon’s decision to select Long Island City for one of its newest office complexes was only made public on Tuesday, but Gianaris said the fight is just beginning.
“We are not giving up until we scuttle this deal, scrap it, throw it in the garbage and start the conversation again,” he said.