Hand it to the city for maintaining a perfect record when it comes to creating thousands of jobs and millions in tax revenue on the land surrounding Anable Basin in Long Island City: two amazingly ambitious proposals put on the table, two proposals left in the trash bin. It’s sad.
First it was Amazon’s plan to build one of its secondary headquarters on the 28-acre site, a collection of lots that run from Vernon Boulevard to the East River, from 44th Avenue to 46th Road, aside from the already built-up blocks west of Fifth Street and south of Anable Basin. It would have provided an estimated 25,000 jobs and $27 billion in tax revenue over 10 years or so, but the city and state would have allowed the firm $2.5 billion in tax breaks and given it another $500 million worth of incentives in exchange. That was enough for so-called progressive politicians led by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to spread the lie that Amazon was being handed $3 billion for the pleasure of building in New York. Resistance grew, the city and state did a poor job of defending the deal, and Amazon, the world at its fingertips, eventually got tired of taking a verbal beating and walked away.
As bad as the loss of the Amazon project was, at least you could understand that the optics of giving the richest man on Earth any kind of tax break or subsidy are terrible, even if the public gets $9 back for every $1 it gives up. And in the end, Amazon will be taking up a fair amount of space elsewhere in the city, including the entirety of the Lord & Taylor Building on Fifth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan, the former site of the deceased retailer’s flagship store.
There will be no such epilogue to the latest debacle on Anable Basin. The companies the city brought together in an effort to come up with a redevelopment plan the public could support will not be taking their plans elsewhere — at least not the unique ones crafted for LIC that they were working on. Not the ones they were putting together after hours and hours of meetings with hundreds of people who wanted to take part in what was a remarkably open planning process.
In this case it apparently was the city that pulled the plug, claiming the developers wanted the public to foot the bill for infrastructure improvements both inside and outside the project site that they should have paid for themselves. According to Politico, however, the cost of those upgrades outside of the development area was $280 million. The players here may be large, successful companies — the site’s biggest property owner is Plaxall, the venerable LIC manufacturing firm — but they’re no Amazon. That’s an awful lot of money to force them to invest outside of their own holdings.
So now, instead of a coordinated, commercially focused development that could have been something like Queens’ version of Brooklyn’s MetroTech Center, we’ll have whatever the individual developers decide to put up. In this market, that may well be nothing, for who knows how long. That will be the price of the city’s arrogant overreach. Despite whatever self-congratulatory tweets area Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer may issue, this is nothing to celebrate. Not when the coronavirus and our collective response to it have destroyed the economy. Not when even Mayor de Blasio, who never saw a jobless person he didn’t want to put on the city payroll, is threatening 22,000 layoffs unless a federal bailout covering all his overspending magically appears (it won’t). And not when the loudest voices against considering the concerns of any business bigger than a bodega — the Van Bramers, the de Blasios, the Ocasio-Cortezes — are also the ones demanding more government spending that can only be covered by a tax base that includes many wealthy people. If they keep this up they’ll risk driving a critical mass of the rich to other states while sites such as Anable Basin are left to rot.