The disintegration of the Amazon deal has left everyone from big-time property owners to mom-and-pop stores shell-shocked over what woulda, coulda, shoulda been for Long Island City.
As news of the broken agreement sank in, locals from Vernon Blvd. to Jackson Ave. mourned a development they believe would’ve transformed the once-industrial neighborhood from a bedroom community to a thriving 24/7 business hub.
“We’re livid, upset and disappointed,” said Gianna Cerbone, 51, a lifelong Long Island City resident who owns the restaurant Monducati’s Rustica. “We need people who actually work in our community, not just who live in our community.”
There’s no real consensus in the “biggest loser” guessing game that began after Amazon made its shocking announcement Thursday. Queensbridge Houses residents, small businesses, real estate companies and Plaxall — which owns one of the sites Amazon planned to build on — were all candidates for who took it on the chin hardest.
Many observers agreed the Savanna real estate firm may be feeling the biggest impact. Amazon was slated to take over much of its Long Island City office tower. Now, Savanna will be forced to find a new tenant.
“[Savanna] accelerated the process of emptying it out,” said one real estate executive familiar with the situation. “They were going to have an anchor tenant, and now they have nothing.”
Plaxall, a manufacturing company, and TF Cornerstone, which was planning to develop part of the Amazon campus, were also left licking their wounds over the weekend, though many believe both will recover.
TF Cornerstone is working on the redevelopment of the Grand Hyatt in midtown Manhattan. And Plaxall still owns the valuable Long Island City land Amazon was planning to build on.
Plaxall’s managing directors Paula Kirby, Tony Pfohl and Matthew Quigley held on to that plum, but were still not pleased with the outcome.
“We’re extremely disappointed by this decision,” they said in a statement. “Since our grandfather opened Plaxall’s doors on the waterfront seven decades ago, our family has believed in the overwhelming promise of Anable Basin and Long Island City … We continue to believe that today.”
Local real estate brokers also remained hopeful, but were upset.
Eric Benaim, a broker with the Long Island City-based Modernspaces, said his firm experienced its best fourth quarter “ever” after the initial announcement Amazon was coming.
“Not because of super high prices, but because we sold more units,” he said.
Benaim predicted real estate brokers like himself won’t suffer much over Amazon’s decision, but said it represents a huge blow to businesses like Cerbone’s.
“I feel bad for the restaurants and businesses who were counting on extra foot traffic,” he said. “You would have had people making the reverse commute. No one really took into account how much sales tax was going to be generated by this.”
The deal likely would have transformed the neighborhood from an outer-borough bedroom community to a bustling downtown.
Cerbone and her friend Donna Drimer, 59, who owns Matted LIC, blamed elected officials like Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer and state Sen. Michael Gianaris for dashing that dream.
“This is really hard for me because I’ve stood by Jimmy’s side when lots of people were against him. It hurts me that they didn’t listen to us. It hurts me as a friend,” Cerbone said. “I reached out to both of them many times but honestly, they haven’t responded. It’s very disappointing that our leaders decided to turn their backs on us.”
Benaim said he tried to convince Van Bramer to soften his stance as well.
“I asked him, ‘Do you want to be known as the person who lost 25,000 jobs?'” he recalled. “He said, ‘It won’t happen.'”
Drimer was not phased by the $3 billion in tax breaks and incentives Amazon expected — a major sticking and talking point for opponents of the deal.
“Anyone as-of-right would have gotten, I believe, $2.4 billion,” she said. “The return on that money in tax revenue is astronomical. And that could have been used for infrastructure over the next 10 years.”
In the end, residents the deal’s opponents claimed to be defending may have lost out the most, according to Vishaan Chakrabarti, an architect, Columbia University professor and vocal deal defender.
Many tenants in nearby NYCHA complexes, like Queensbridge, who supported the deal “were drowned out,” he said.
Chakrabarti said aside from jobs in trucking, for example, Amazon would have had a “multiplier effect” and attracted other business.
“All of those folks who opposed this with the belief that they were representing the ‘people’ were totally ignoring those people [in NYCHA],” he said. “Amazon is different than Google and Facebook. It wasn’t just coders they’d be hiring.”
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