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Gone in a New York minute: How the Amazon deal fell apart



NEW YORK (AP) – In early November, words began to leak, Amazon was serious about choosing New York to build a huge new campus. The city was eager to lure the company and its thousands of high-paid tech jobs offering billions in tax incentives and lighting the Empire State Building in Amazon Orange.

Even Governor Andrew Cuomo came up with the act: "I want to change my name to Amazon Cuomo if that's what it requires," he shot at that time.

Then Amazon made it official: It chose the Long Island City Quarter Queens to build a $ 2.5 billion campus that could remember 25,000 workers in New Office Supplements scheduled for Northern Virginia. Cuomo and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, Democrats who have been political opponents for years, trumpeted the decision as a major coup after exhibiting more than 230 other proposals.

But what they had not expected were the protests, the hostile public hearings and the discriminating tweets that would come in the next three months, which eventually led to Amazon's dramatic Valentine's Day collapse with New York.

Immediately after Amazon's Nov 1

2 announcement, the criticism began to pour in. The agreement included DKK 1.5 billion. Special tax breaks and grants to the company, but a closer look at the overall package showed that it was at least $ 2.8 billion. Some of the same politicians who had signed a letter to Amazon now faced the tax incentives.

"Offering massive corporate welfare from scarce public resources to one of the richest companies in the world at a time of great need in our state is just wrong," said New York State Sen. Michael Gianaris and New York City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, Democrats representing the Long Island City area, in a joint statement.

The next day, CEO Jeff Bezos on the cover of The New York Post, in a cartoon-like illustration hanging out of a helicopter, was holding money bags in each hand with cash bending over the skylin. "QUEENS RANSOM," screamed the headline. The New York Times editorial team meanwhile called a "bad deal" for the city: "We don't know for 10 years if the promised 25,000 jobs will be realized," it said.

Anti-Amazon rallies were scheduled for next week. Protests stormed a New York Amazon bookstore the day after Thanksgiving and then went to a rally on a courthouse near the new headquarters site in the incline. Some held cardboard boxes with Amazon's smiley logo turned upside down.

They had a long list of complaints: The deal was made secret; Amazon, one of the world's most valuable companies, did not need nearly $ 3 billion in tax incentives; rising rents could push people out of the neighborhood; and the company was against unionization.

The helicopter was also coming up: Amazon was promised in its agreement with the city to build a place to land a helicopter on or near the new offices.

That the first public hearing in December, which became a hostile, three-hour interrogation by two Amazon leaders by the city's legislators, the helicopter was mentioned more than a dozen times. The image of highly-paid executives, buzzing with a nearby housing project, became a symbol of corporate greed.

Queens citizens soon found Amazon postcards in their mailboxes and trumpeted the benefits of the project. Gianaris sent his own version, called the company "Scamazon" and urged people to call Bezos and tell him to stay in Seattle.

At another city council hearing in January, Amazon's public order vice president, Brian Huseman, suggested subtly that perhaps the company's decision to come to New York could be reversed.

"We want to invest in a society that wants us," he said.

Then came a sign that Amazon's opponents could actually succeed in delivering the deal: In early February, Gianaris was tapped into a seat on a well-known state panel, which often has to approve state funding for major economic development projects. This meant that the Amazon agreement went before the table, Gianaris could kill it.

"I don't want to negotiate a better deal," Gianaris said at the time. "I'm against the deal that's been proposed."

Cuomo was empowered to block Gianaris' agreement, but he did not indicate whether he would take that step.

Meanwhile, Amazon's own doubts about the project began to show. On February 8, The Washington Post reported that the company had other thoughts about Queens location.

On Wednesday, Cuomo met a meeting with four top Amazon leaders and the leaders of three trade unions critically agreed. Union leaders went away with the impression that the parties had agreed framework for further negotiations, said Stuart Appelbaum, president of Retail Wholesale and the Department Store Union.

"We had a good conversation. We talked about the next step. We shook hands," appelbaum said.

A representative from Amazon did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

The final battle landed on Thursday when Amazon announced on a blog post that it was backward, surprising mayor, who had spoken to an Amazon boss on Monday night and received "no indication" that the company would bail.

Amazon still expected the deal to be approved according to a source familiar with Amazon's thinking, but the constant criticism of politicians did not make sense to the company to grow there.

"I was flabbergasted," said De Blasio. "Why on earth, after all the effort we all put in, would you just go away?"


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