The tallest building in Long Island City is best known for the Citi emblazoned atop its green glass facade.
Soon, that tower could sport an Amazon logo, in what would be just the start of a mammoth effort to bring up to 40,000 Amazon jobs to the region and an estimated $900 million a year in new tax revenue to the state.
But none of that is going to happen overnight. Tremendous challenges remain to get Long Island City and its environs ready for an Amazon campus. And the anti-corporate, anti-change rhetoric of disaster and catastrophe from some elected officials hasn’t been helpful. To get the benefits and input they crave, a better strategy would be to ask smart, specific questions, analyze problems, and offer potential solutions on issues like transit, traffic, housing and schools to make this project a blessing, not a burden.
The potential benefits extend far beyond the borders of Long Island City, touching all five boroughs and beyond. There’s the chance to build on the existing technology industry that has begun to grow, particularly in Manhattan, to create a diverse sector of software and other firms that could power a new economic engine here.
That’ll require our academic institutions, business leaders, political officials and planners to think strategically about how to take advantage of the synergy that could come from Amazon and other companies that will spring up because of its presence. But questions remain as to whether smaller firms will be able to compete with Amazon for talent, and whether the region can develop a large enough talent pool to meet the need. Community colleges and universities will have to develop the programs necessary to prepare our students to work in the tech economy.
Then there are larger concerns, about where those talented workers will live, and how they will get to and from their new workplace. That means addressing the city’s continued need for affordable housing and the even more staggering demand for better transit and transportation options. Start with necessary subway upgrades. Then, improve at least one of the Long Island Rail Road stops — Hunterspoint Avenue and the Long Island City stop at Borden Avenue and Second Street — neither of which handles significant train traffic now. Adding a station at Sunnyside Yards would be a particular boon.
No small undertaking
An even bigger problem is that Long Island City is already the equivalent epicenter of NYC’s congestion migraine. The only way to cure the headache, and help the MTA, too, is through a tolling plan for the now-free East River bridges or the Manhattan roads to which they lead.
Bringing Amazon to Queens is not a small undertaking. But New York has done big things before.
When Rockefeller Center was first proposed in the late 1920s there were plenty of public objections to some of the plans. But John D. Rockefeller Jr. and his partner found a way to “yes.” Eventually, the bustling hub of office buildings, shops and underground passageways, the famous plaza where the Christmas tree is now being decorated, and the accompanying Radio City Music Hall, were built.
That city within the city put New Yorkers to work then, and has since become an economic and arts centerpiece. Now, we can’t picture NYC without it.