NEW YORK -- Amazon abruptly dropped plans Thursday for a big new headquarters in New York that would have meant 25,000 jobs in the city, reversing course after politicians and activists objected to the nearly $3 billion in tax breaks promised to what is already one of the world's richest, most powerful companies.
"There are a number of folks on the ground who oppose our presence," Amazon spokesman Jodi Seth said. "We don't think there's a path forward in terms of working with them over the long term."
The decision was a blow to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, who had aggressively lobbied to land the project, competing against more than 200 other metropolitan areas across the continent that were eager to offer incentives to Amazon in a bidding war that the company stoked.
Cuomo lashed out at fellow New York politicians over Amazon's change of heart, saying the project would have helped diversify the city's economy, cement its status as an emerging tech hub, and generate money for schools, housing and transit.
"A small group of politicians put their own narrow political interests above their community," he said.
But Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, New York City's new liberal firebrand, exulted over Amazon's pullout.
"Today was the day a group of dedicated, everyday New Yorkers and their neighbors defeated Amazon's corporate greed, its worker exploitation, and the power of the richest man in the world," she tweeted, referring to Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos.
Amazon announced in November that it had chosen the Long Island City section of Queens for one of two new headquarters, with the other in Arlington, Va. Both areas would get 25,000 jobs. A third site in Nashville, Tenn., would get 5,000.
The company planned to spend $2.5 billion to build the New York office, choosing the area in part because of its large pool of technological talent. The governor and the mayor had argued that the project would spur economic growth that would pay for the $2.8 billion in state and city incentives many times over.
The governor, who had joked that he would change his name to "Amazon Cuomo" to win the deal, said the project would have meant nearly $30 billion in revenue and would have helped diversify the New York economy away from real estate and finance.
After Amazon backed out, de Blasio -- who according to his press secretary had learned of the decision an hour before it was announced -- criticized the company for not doing more to try to win over New Yorkers, saying: "You have to be tough to make it in New York City."
In pulling out, Amazon said it isn't looking for a replacement location "at this time." It said it plans to spread the technology jobs that were planned for New York to other offices around the U.S. and Canada, including Chicago, Toronto and Austin, Texas. It will also expand its existing New York offices, which already have about 5,000 employees.
The list of grievances against the project grew as the months wore on, with critics complaining about Amazon's stance on unions and some Long Island City residents fretting that the company's arrival, with employees to be paid an average salary of at least $150,000, would drive up rents and other costs.
Opposition to the deal was led in the Democrat-controlled state Senate by Michael Gianaris, the chamber's No. 2 lawmaker, whose district includes Long Island City. Initially among the politicians who supported attracting an Amazon headquarters to the city, Gianaris did an about-face after the deal was announced, criticizing the secrecy surrounding the negotiations and the generous incentives.
Earlier this month, Gianaris was appointed to a state panel that could have ultimately been asked to approve the subsidies.
"Like a petulant child, Amazon insists on getting its way or takes its ball and leaves," Gianaris said Thursday. "The only thing that happened here is that a community that was going to be profoundly affected by their presence started asking questions."
A union that helped lead the opposition said Amazon should have worked with the community to address its concerns.
"Jeff Bezos had the opportunity to listen to the voices of working families and support the good-paying jobs New Yorkers deserve," Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, said in a statement. "But now we can see this is all about blind greed and Jeff Bezos' belief that everyday taxpayers should foot the bill for their new headquarters even as the company actively works to eliminate millions of American retail jobs."
New York's resistance to the Amazon project was in sharp contrast with the generally warm welcome that Virginia gave the company. With little opposition, Virginia has already passed a law granting Amazon up to $750 million in state incentives over the next 15 years, on the condition that it create 37,850 jobs over that period.
The New York City Council likely would have had to file a lawsuit to scuttle the deal, which was structured to avoid the land-use review process that most projects undergo.
In recent weeks, City Council members held hearings at which they grilled Amazon officials about such things as the company's contract with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to provide facial recognition technology.
A top Amazon official had testified before the City Council that it would not remain neutral in any union bids by New York staff members -- putting pro-union politicians like Cuomo and de Blasio in a tricky spot. That spot was even worse for the two unions that were supporting Amazon, The Building and Construction Trades and the Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ.
"They buckled because we held firm on the values of New Yorkers -- we told them that you cannot come to New York City and declare that you will crush the rights of workers to organize," said Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who represents the area where the headquarters would have been. "Amazon insisted and refused to change their ways, and we said no deal. And they would rather leave and go elsewhere than allow workers who make $18 an hour to organize a union," Van Bramer said.
While there had been anger surrounding the $3 billion in subsidies the company was getting, Van Bramer said he thought the union issue was what made the deal "untenable" in the end.
Eric Benaim, a realty executive who gets most of his sales and rentals in Long Island City, had led a petition in support of Amazon, drawing 4,000 signatures.
"I woke up this morning, and I had no clue this would happen. Zero. This news is a shock, and I'm devastated," he said.
Information for this article was contributed by Joseph Pisani, Alexandra Olson, Verena Dobnik, Karen Matthews, Kiley Armstrong, Chris Rugaber, Chris Carola and David Klepper of The Associated Press; by Robert McCartney and Jonathan O'Connell of The Washington Post; by J. David Goodman of The New York Times; and by Jillian Jorgensen, Clayton Guse, Denis Slattery and Noah Goldberg of the New York Daily News.
A Section on 02/15/2019
Print Headline: Amazon cancels plan for HQ, 25,000 jobs in NYC