Amazon, the online retail giant, tried to set up shop in Long Island City. The company came onto the scene in 2018 promising to build its second headquarters in Queens and create more than 25,000 high-paying jobs in the process, but by Feb. 14 Amazon had pulled out of the deal after months of community antagonism and protest.
What did Amazon do wrong? After all, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) were both completely behind the idea.
What happened was Amazon, like Marcus Licinius Crassus of Rome marching into the Parthian Empire in ancient Iran, wanted to stamp its logo in the dirt without thinking of the logistics, or whether the people wanted them there.
We, as journalists, know the routine developers need to take to successfully settle into our areas. The prospective business must work with the local municipality, whether it’s a village or town, and establish site plans and conduct environmental reviews. If their idea is sound, the area representative works with the developer, relaying questions and concerns from their constituents to the developer.
More important is reaching out and connecting with the local residents. After all, they are the ones who will likely patronize the business. They are the ones who will see it affect their local ambiance or property values. They are the ones forced to live next to it day after day.
It might be the height of foolhardy narcissism from all involved, from the government to Amazon themselves, to think there wouldn’t be any blowback from residents. The announcement of HQ2 was kept secret until leaping onto the scene, and residents were stuck either saying “yes” or “no” to Amazon.
We often see how the community reacts to new developments, and while sometimes there is a little not-in-my-backyard ideology to go around, many residents are keen to know how a development will affect them. The developer needs to listen to their concerns and make changes to their designs, otherwise the plans could blow up in their face.
The Town of Brookhaven, especially Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), has recently shown its desire to see Amazon keep its promise to New York. It has offered the retail giant to set up in the town near the South Shore, all the while keeping the massive tax breaks promised by the governor using the town’s own Industrial Development Agency. While we appreciate the idea of bringing so many high-paying jobs into the area, which may boost the local tourism industry, we also caution the same sort of secrecy and backroom dealing which led Amazon to abandon its Queens plans in the first place.
It’s also a lesson to local governments and prospective developers. Not all residents will agree with every new structure and every new business, but developers absolutely need to listen to their concerns. Amazon is not the only company to be pushed back by protest. The Villadom project in the Town of Huntington that would have created a new Elwood mall, was lambasted by community members who felt they were being sidestepped and ignored.
The community has a stronger voice than some might expect, and like Crassus eventually learned as he was roundly defeated and humiliated by the Parthians, one can’t simply stake claim on property unilaterally without a spear pointed at one’s neck.