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Amazon deal doomed by poor outreach to New Yorkers, EDC boss says

James Patchett said officials are exploring whether to revive prior development plans in Long Island City.

The city is looking at its prior plans

The city is looking at its prior plans for mixed-use development on the property where Amazon had planned to construct its campus, according to James Patchett, president of the city's Economic Development Corp.  Photo Credit: Corey Sipkin

The city's Economic Development Corporation President James Patchett said Thursday that many New Yorkers had misconceptions about Amazon's now-nixed plans for a Queens campus because the company did a poor job discussing it. 

Amazon dominated the conversation when Patchett spoke at the Crain's Business Breakfast forum. He described being shocked on Valentine's Day when Amazon announced it would no longer build a $2.5 billion hub in Long Island City, where it planned to station 25,000 new, full-time employees. Upon reflection, Patchett said he did not think the Seattle-based company was prepared for the limelight in New York City, where he joked people only agree on the trials of being a Knicks fan. 

“They didn’t perform particularly well in their public hearings," Patchett said. "They never hired a single New Yorker to work for them, to talk to New Yorkers. They never really connected with people in the city."

However, Patchett was also critical of how the media covered the deal, particularly the nearly $3 billion in public incentives authorized for Amazon. He said many people mistakenly believed the benefits were an upfront dole out to the company. Most of the aid would have accrued over time because, as long as Amazon met hiring and other targets, it would have had its tax bills reduced.

He suggested it was common for people consuming news on Amazon's campus to come away with the misconception that Amazon was slated to receive $3 million in cash, but Patchett did not say any of the reporting was factually inaccurate.

Patchett said, "If you were reading the media you would have actually thought that, to the point, where I was having drinks with a couple of my best friends, and they were like, 'Why did you write them a check for $3 billion.'"

The city is now exploring reviving prior development plans for the site, according to Patchett. Previously the government had planned to work with developers to construct housing, commercial space and a school at that location. 

Pursuit, a nonprofit focused on tech training, had been involved with the original development plans, then became cued into the vision with Amazon and is still seeking to maintain a role in whatever comes next, according to its co-founder and CEO Jukay Hsu. 

“Our mission remains the same, and we’re still going to move forward and pursue our long-term plan," Hsu said. "That was happening before Amazon, and it will still happen now.”

Regardless of what rises in Long Island City, Patchett said the city's economy will continue to thrive despite Amazon’s pullout. He said the boroughs are still attracting tech companies, and life sciences firms are making strides across the city.

“The most fundamental thing to me, is that [the Amazon deal] was a validation of the many things we’ve been saying for a long time, which is Western Queens has the potential as a commercial hub — our tech company is generally competitive with anywhere in the country and in the world." Patchett said.

With Lauren Cook

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