Kennedy: A tour of Queens’ Amazon site

Down to Business

I took a tour of the Long Island City area in Queens where Amazon will put the New York half of its new East Coast HQ2.

Via Google Maps, I cruised along Vernon Boulevard among low-slung brick buildings, surface-parking lots, and neighborhood bars and retail within sight of the East River and midtown Manhattan just beyond. (The Street View images are from a year ago.)
At the northern end of the multi-block-squared HQ2 site, which is a mix of public and private land, is the six-story New York City Department of Education school services building. From my armchair tour, it’s a “keeper” — easily repurposed for some of the 25,000 workers Amazon has promised to hire in exchange for a passel of city and state incentives.

The company has until March to decide whether to lease the 672,000-square-foot structure, according to the memorandum of understanding, or MOU, that lays out many of the details of the HQ2 deal announced last week.

Amazon also has an MOU with Virginia, where the other half of HQ2 will be built. The site there covers a long spit of land, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., that stretches south toward Alexandria along U.S. 1.

The area is a bustling mix of high-rise office buildings, hotels and residences, with restaurants and everyday retail at street level, along with several enclosed and open-air malls. Amazon is working with a private developer to take over vacated office buildings or to build new.

I’m familiar with the Virginia site from visits to Daughter No. 1 who lives, works and shops in the area. Although dense with towers, it’s still pedestrian-friendly with pocket parks and sidewalk dining.

Indeed, the Virginia MOU lays out the state’s commitment, with local officials, to make U.S. 1 — a six-lane highway — safer for pedestrians who want to cross it, including, presumably, some of the 25,000 workers Amazon promised Virginia. The state also says it will help secure approvals for a pedestrian bridge from HQ2 to nearby Regan National Airport.

Like New York, Virginia also offered incentives for the jobs and 4 million square feet of new office space Amazon envisions. In each state, a second phase could take the job count to nearly 40,000 and the space needed to 8 million square feet.

Virginia’s MOU is fairly lean, perhaps even a bit genteel. It focuses on jobs and transportation investments, and includes handy fill-in-the-blank reports for Amazon to apply for workforce grant money and then to annually track the jobs created.

New York’s MOU is more, well, Noo Yawk. It expects a number of specific “community commitments” from Amazon, including space for a new primary or intermediate public school; a public waterfront esplanade with adjacent open space; and precisely detailed square feet devoted to light manufacturing, artist workspace, and incubator and tech-accelerator space.

Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at [email protected]

Categories: Business

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