If Amazon Chooses Long Island City for a HQ2, It Could Be a Disaster
On paper, Long Island City (LIC) looks like a pretty good neighborhood for an e-commerce giant’s second headquarters: It’s served by multiple subway lines, features a few empty tracts of land, and it’s smack-dab in the middle of New York City.
In reality, Amazon choosing LIC for its so-called “HQ2” could prove a disaster of epic proportions. The reason is simple: infrastructure, or lack thereof.
LIC is a perfect microcosm of the cultural and economic forces gripping the rest of New York City. It has multiple subway lines, but those lines are subject to the same hell-storm of crushing delays, breakdowns, and other issues that affect the MTA at large. Jump on the 7 train from Court Square at 8 A.M. (which will require squeezing onto a car packed shoulder-to-shoulder with people; overcrowding remains a serious issue), and chances are pretty good you’ll hit some significant delays by the time you roll into Grand Central.
Adding 25,000+ more workers (in addition to a couple of huge headquarters buildings) will only place additional strain on an already-overloaded system. There’s an additional complication: In April 2019, the MTA will shut down the L train that runs through Williamsburg, the hip Brooklyn neighborhood to the south; in order to get to work, many commuters who would have otherwise taken the L will instead take the G to Court Square, where they’ll jump on the E or 7 to the city. LIC, in other words, faces several years of subway hell, even without HQ2.
(Supposedly, the L shutdown will last 15 months, but if the MTA’s past work is any indication, it will take far longer.)
The subways aren’t the only issue. At one point in the not-so-distant past, LIC was a pretty quiet neighborhood. If you were a resident, you traded that peace and quiet for relatively few amenities (Hi, Burger Garage!). But over the past few years, developers have decided to make LIC a “hot” neighborhood. Glass condos have sprung up like mushrooms along the major boulevards, along with trendy eateries, small boutiques, and a mystifying number of dentists (seriously, why are there so many dentists in the neighborhood now?).
What has that development done for the neighborhood? Commercial rents have shot up — as with the rest of the city, it’s difficult for a small business to handle this sort of heated economic environment. It’s also led to a slow-but-steady rise in residential rents; all this new housing stock is aimed firmly at the city’s richest.
Amazon is blamed for skyrocketing rents in Seattle, and there’s every reason to believe the same thing would happen in LIC if HQ2 landed here. New York City is already failing to encourage sufficient middle-class housing development, and has done precious little to address the issues facing smaller businesses attempting to maintain a foothold in their neighborhoods; a massive conglomerate crushing down a mega-structure in the midst of LIC would only exacerbate these issues.
Which brings us to yet another point: Where, exactly, will HQ2 go? A decade ago, there were broad swaths of vacant lots that Amazon could have converted into a gleaming testament to Jeff Bezos’s ambition. But with so many condos and skyscrapers springing up, space is at a premium. There are generalized proposals to build over the railyards that border one side of the neighborhood, similar to Manhattan’s Hudson Yards project, but such plans may take a decade or more to come to fruition — not exactly something that Amazon would wait around for.
There are several vacant lots along the waterfront (Vernon Boulevard, specifically), but the roads servicing the area are small (and many are one-way). HQ2 settling in that picturesque environs would force the neighborhood to undergo a broader development that would necessarily snarl traffic for years (and result in substantial traffic issues once complete).
And there’s another potential venue: the iconic Citi skyscraper at One Court Square, a 50-story office building that’s supposedly going to become vacant in 2020. It will offer one million square feet of space — potentially enough to accommodate Amazon’s workforce. That could prove an elegant solution to at least some of the potential issues of HQ2 moving in.
As Amazon likes to say, HQ2 will spur a lot of economic development. Unless managed carefully, however, that development could prove too much for a neighborhood already wrestling with growth, transportation, and other issues. Hopefully everyone involved will make smart decisions.