By MICHAEL GARETH JOHNSON
Last Thursday, the Queens Tribune hosted its first Changing Landscape of Queens event, exploring the booming development in the borough and issues related to the rapid growth. Unsurprisingly, the impact of Amazon’s building a 25,000-employee corporate headquarters in Long Island City dominated the discussion of the panel, which included New York City Councilman Francisco Moya, NYC Economic Development Corporation VP of Development Nate Bliss, Queens Chamber of Commerce President Tom Grech and Christopher Fenelus, the CEO of Scope Realty.
Reaction to the news was overwhelmingly positive. Grech focused on the multiplying effect that the high-paying jobs would have on the borough, creating new customers for existing businesses in western Queens and beyond. The Chamber president added that if Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s estimated return on the $3 billion in incentives was indeed 9 to 1, then the borough would make out great on the deal.
EDC’s Bliss pointed out that Amazon’s developing in Long Island City is a natural next step for the decades-long plan of development for the area. Residential buildings have been shooting up at an incredibly fast rate in LIC, and Amazon’s moving its headquarters to the facility is going to create more balance between residential and commercial.
While not opposed to the deal, Councilman Moya did raise concerns he has about Amazon’s coming.
“Growth itself shouldn’t frighten us, but growth without proper planning should. My biggest fear is that development will price out Queens residents and the character of our neighborhoods,” Moya said.
He added that by circumventing the normal process for development, Amazon has started from a point where the community feels on the outside. He said the process that exists for land-use projects, which involves the local community boards and other stakeholders, can often lead to a better plan for all involved, including developers and incoming businesses.
Moya was also concerned that Amazon’s arrival could drive up housing prices. This was a sentiment echoed by Scope Realty’s Fenelus, who represents one of the most diverse real estate firms in New York City.
Long Island City is not the only place growing rapidly in Queens. The panel discussed the development in Jamaica, with Bliss speaking about the similarities that area has with Long Island City. Residential units have been popping up in downtown Jamaica around the Long Island Rail Road hub and the AirTrain access to JFK Airport. Bliss suggested that commercial development, and potentially even corporate headquarters, could be in the works for the area in coming years because of the current groundwork being laid there.
The discussion concluded with an update on Willets Point development from Councilman Moya, who was pleased with the progress at the site. Currently six acres of land have been earmarked for the development of affordable housing and senior housing. Moya, an avid fan of soccer, also said he is still optimistic that a soccer stadium would be built at the site. Bliss added that he is hopeful that in 10 years, Willets Point will be fully remediated and that buildings will be starting to go up at the location.
The event was sponsored by Scope Realty, the Queens Chamber of Commerce, Bird Scooters and SPACES. Borough President Melinda Katz delivered the keynote address before the panel discussion.