Pittsburgh offered Amazon its best development sites — for free

Pittsburgh offered Amazon its best development sites — for free
Amazons HQ2 will strip New York of 1,500 new public housing units
Long Island City in Queens, N.Y., may seem ideal for Amazon. Directly across the East River from Manhattan, it offers stunning views, easy access to transportation, and shiny new residential towers already rising by the water.

But there is a growing risk to it: The proposed 4 million to 8 million square-foot complex would be located in a flood plain.

Open thread: How do you feel about Amazons move to NYC?

New research from Climate Central and Zillow shows the area could see significant coastal flooding by 2020. By 2050, extreme projections of sea level rise have low-lying buildings under water.

Share Share Open thread: How do you feel about Amazons move to NYC? tweet share Reddit Pocket Flipboard Email Illustration by Alyssa Nassner In case you havent heard—though if you read Curbed NY regularly, thats highly unlikely—Amazon announced this week that it would split its much-hyped second North American headquarters between two locations: Crystal City, a neighborhood in Arlington, Virginia; and Long Island City, right here in Queens.

“One of the reasons Amazon got so big was long-term thinking, but building in the lowest spot in Queens is not long-term thinking,” said Benjamin Strauss, CEO and chief scientist at Climate Central. “This is clearly building square in the danger zone for frequent flooding.”

And its only been four days since the announcement was made—expect more issues brought to the fore in the coming months. But with all that in mind, we want to know: How do you, Curbed readers, feel about the Amazon deal? Do you love it? Are you planning to cancel your Prime account in protest? Are you enraged by the fact that Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio can work together on this, but not on fixing the subways? Chime in below.

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Amazon can build sea walls and barriers and take other steps to make its new headquarters resilient, like developers are doing at nearby Brooklyn Navy Yards new Dock 72, that literally hangs over the water. It is a collaboration by Boston Properties and Rudin Management.

The Amazon bidding war has been conducted in a fashion more than a little reminiscent of sports stadium shakedowns: Declare your team (or company) a free agent that is ready to move wherever it likes, then wait for local elected officials to scurry for any much public cash as they can stuff into unmarked briefcases. Its not quite fair to say that sports team owners taught their non-sports brethren the rules of the extortion game—he first big wave of corporate subsidies came in the 1980s, as car companies and computer chip plants realized that Reagan-era cuts in federal development aid to cities were leading desperate mayors to open their city treasuries to any passing private company. But Bezoss Amazon sweepstakes, like the one conducted by Elon Musk for a Tesla factory before that, clearly owes a debt of gratitude to the biannual Olympic circus, which in turn learned from the sports team owners who have collectively extracted tens of billions of public dollars for stadiums and arenas in recent decades.

“We have a very strong plan in terms of sustainability and dealing with storms,” said William Rudin, CEO of Rudin Management. “Our lobby is 8 feet above the water level. All the mechanicals are on the second and third floor. We are very focused on resiliency.”

The futility of trying to boost your citys economy by throwing money at pro sports is well-established, even if it hasnt always sunk in with elected officials (after all, theyll be long out of office when the final bill comes due). But does the same calculus hold for other corporate sweetheart deals? After all, many of the arguments that economists point to as reasons why sports subsidies are pointless—local sports spending cannibalizes money that would be spent elsewhere in your city anyway, the prime beneficiaries are a few rich folks who wont spend much in your local economy, the jobs created are mostly low-wage and part-time—dont hold true for a corporate headquarters employing as many as 25,000 full-time workers at a projected average salary of $150,000 a year. Is spending billions to land Amazon a better deal? Or just a different breed of boondoggle?

The same is true at the massive Hudson Yards development on Manhattans West Side, also built right by a river but over train yards, so it is elevated. Amazon could raise the ground under its new offices and raise all the building systems.

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“Whenever you do things that are different that havent been done, youre going to have greater cost,” said Stephen Ross, Chairman of the Related Companies, which is developing Hudson Yards. “So were able to offer, really, a resilient community, embracing all the latest in technology, in every aspect of it.”

Climate Change Could Sink Amazons New York Headquarters

Superstorm Sandy caused massive flooding in Long Island City, and the area now experiences floods almost any time there is a heavy downpour.

According to Politico, two different developers were planning to build new housing complexes–which would have included around 1,500 affordable units. Now those spaces are both being scooped up by Amazon for the company’s new buildings. One of the developers may be able to build something much smaller, but it’s unclear if it will stick to the housing plan or go for something else.

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“And the truth is, heavy rain has already increased by 50 percent in the Northeast. So we can expect that trend to continue. It gets warmer, it means the air can hold more moisture and we get bigger downpours,” said Strauss of Climate Central.

Not only are the state and city giving the company huge tax incentives–and I mean huge!–but it turns out Amazon is also going to take up space that was intended for affordable housing. So while Amazon’s very presence will surely jack up the already-rising cost of living in New York, the company’s footprint may further deny people in need of a new place to live.

From 2005 to 2014, Queens saw an additional 31 days of coastal flooding due to climate change, researchers say. If Queens experienced a 6-foot flood, which scientists expect by the end of this century, that would put $13 billion worth of property at risk of damage, including about 34,000 homes, according to Climate Central and Zillow.

Companies and residential developers continue to build on the water because that is simply where people want to live and work. Long Island City is already becoming a hot spot for New York City, and Amazon will speed that change exponentially. New York City is also running out of large spaces for developments like this one, which likely played into the choice.

Amazon is more than likely considering all these risks as it plans its new headquarters, although a spokesman for the company said they could not comment on any plans. Like other waterfront buildings, the new headquarters will have to be built as a stronghold — resilient against weather and water.

At the height of the Great Recession, when unemployment was at 10 percent, creating local jobs and attracting businesses were the top priorities for elected officials, as it should have been. But thats not the case anymore in most urban areas. Only places with higher-than-average unemployment, such as Detroit, need to focus on jobs. Otherwise, the economy is growing, and unemployment is at a record low. What the US economy needs more than anything is for wages to rise. Pay workers more, and they will spend more.

“But then you have to ask how easy will it be to get to and from their headquarters, whats happening to the surrounding neighborhood? And theyre going to need the citys help to fortify the whole area,” Strauss said.

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Last week, Amazon unveiled its two new homes, in the Crystal City area of Arlington, Virginia, and Long Island City in the Gotham borough of Queens. This at least marks the end of the HQ2 mania set in motion in September 2017.

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