Queens Leaders, Locals Look to ‘Set the Record Straight’ on Amazon

Amid steady, vocal opposition to Amazon’s plans for a Long Island City campus, a new wave of efforts have been underway by local business owners and civic leaders in an attempt to showcase the broader narrative on the ground toward the e-commerce giant’s development.

Recent days have seen the release of an online petition in support of HQ2, started by a group of businesses in Long Island City and steadily gaining steam, along with a press conference by an alliance of Queens leaders that pushed back hard on the staunch, hardline opposition the project has faced since the official HQ2 announcement months ago.

The new efforts come as two new polls, one funded by Amazon, show that New Yorkers are largely in favor of the company locating a new campus in Long Island City and the deal it reached between the city and state for it. They also follow a Washington Post report published late last week that said Amazon is possibly reconsidering its campus siting in Queens due to local opposition.

The petition, created one week ago by “LIC Supports Amazon,” has since gained 2,950 signatures in its bid to show that the project has considerable support far and wide.

The local businesses behind the petition are located on Vernon Boulevard, and include places like Manducatis Rustica, owned by an active community leader, and Modern Spaces, the real estate agency with a strong presence in Astoria and Long Island City.

Eric Benaim, CEO of Modern Spaces and a fervent supporter of HQ2, said interest in the project has always been present, but has been drowned out or quelled due to fear of backlash.

“For the last two months everyone has kept quiet,” he said. “We know it’s a small number of opposing people who are just being loud.”

Benaim believes Long Island City “won the business lotto” with Amazon selecting the neighborhood for its new campus, and said his support for the project would be unwavering regardless of his role in real estate.

“How on earth is 25,000 jobs a bad thing?” he said, noting half of the jobs at the new headquarters won’t be in tech and are therefore open to a wider range of people.

News of Amazon thinking of pulling out of Long Island City, believed by many to possibly be a leveraging tactic, made the petition all the more urgent, Benaim said. He e-mailed a letter to thousands of his clients past and present on the day of the report urging them to sign on to the petition and voice their support for the project.

“If Amazon actually leaves, no other company will come here again,” he said. “It just doesn’t affect me, it affects Queens. It affects New York.”

He added: “We have an opportunity to build something really great around here.”

Opportunity was also the focal point at yesterday’s press conference at the Queensbridge Houses, attended largely by the presidents of tenant associations for four area public housing complexes and non-profit leaders that have been in talks with Amazon on HQ2.

The press conference rebuked the steadfast resistance to Amazon’s campus, and pointed to the benefits of having a seat at the table in HQ2 talks.

“We are here today to set the record straight,” said Bishop Mitchell Taylor of Urban Upbound, adding, “We have a cadre of residents that are standing behind us, all of which understand the potential of development in our communities.”

Taylor, who co-chairs the workforce development group within the Amazon HQ2 Community Advisory Committee, took issue with the number of activist groups that have campaigned against the project, and especially criticized an outreach effort at the Queensbridge Houses over the weekend, even accusing the organizing groups of spreading misinformation.

“I’m incensed when I see people…from other places convene upon Queensbridge, knocking on doors telling people because of Amazon, you’re going to lose your apartment,” he said.

The outreach effort, organized by groups like Queens Neighborhoods United and Chhaya CDC, saw fliers handed out around the complex that said Amazon HQ2 is a “bad deal for all New Yorkers” and that it would “fuel skyrocketing rents and displacement.”

A “myth and fact” sheet also given out during the Saturday outreach, which also saw Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer and State Sen. Mike Gianaris collecting signatures against HQ2 at the Queensbridge Houses, noted that the company “does not want to be our neighbors” and wants to “push us out.”

“If you’re concerned about gentrification—that happened 15 years ago,” Taylor said.

Taylor, along with the tenant association presidents for Queensbrige, Ravenswood, Astoria and Woodside Houses were also displeased by the activist groups for what they saw as an affront to their years having served and vouched for the Queens neighborhoods they’ve called home for decades.

“We’ve been sitting at the table from day one,” said April Simpson, president of the Queensbridge Houses Tenant Association for the past seven years. “We’ve been representing our community for years, so what makes you think we ain’t going to represent them still, today, with Amazon?”

“We’re there now trying to shape what the benefit would look like for the community as a result of Amazon coming,” Taylor said, adding, “I am very concerned that we get the best benefit we can possibly get.”

“The people want a fair hearing and the jury is still out, so let the process play out,” he added.

The petition and press conference, which took on an “Amazon HQ2 is no empty promise” tagline, come at the same time the company is looking to increase public support for its Long Island City headquarters with a public campaign. The campaign has so far taken on the form of mailers touting the project’s benefits, and starting new hiring and education initiatives for local residents and schools, among other steps.

Today, meanwhile, groups like the Queens Chamber of Commerce and the Old Astoria Neighborhood Association traveled to Albany to voice their support for Amazon’s campus in the borough.

The company’s executives will face a third round of oversight hearings in City Council later this month.

The project’s buildout is expected to start in 2020 after state approvals are attained, a topic that has hit the spotlight after Gianaris, an outspoken critic of the deal, was nominated to sit on a state board that could change the course of the planned campus.