NYC Historian Mitch Waxman Discusses Amazon HQ2
Mitch Waxman is a lifelong New Yorker and historian who for the past decade has traversed the area near the Long Island City waterfront at Anabel Basin where Amazon’s HQ2 is planned. In a recent post on his site Newtown Pentacle, Waxman revisits some of the photos he snapped of the future Amazon HQ2 campus, and Greenpointers reached out to Waxman to learn his point of view regarding the HQ2 announcement. He offered the disclaimer that he’s neither for or against Amazon’s HQ2 expansion into Queens and that his views are still developing on the deal as details emerge.
The area of Anabel Basin where Amazon’s HQ2 will be partially constructed is on contaminated land where a plastics manufacturer once operated, why would Amazon choose contaminated land to build on?
MW: There’s hundreds of state Superfund sites in Western Queens, and the people who have been moving into North Brooklyn and Western Queens over the last 20 years are breaking the old pattern. It used to be when you bought a house, you intended to be buried in your backyard, whereas the current population has very little intention of making New York their final stop. This is one stop on the trip of their lives and eventually, they’re going to settle elsewhere.
When you’re at Amazon’s new campus you’re down the block from the largest power plant in New York City that’s causing childhood asthma rates of historic levels in Ravenswood, Astoria and Queensbridge Houses. You’re on what abuts a brownfield, and a future Superfund site at Anabel Basin.
Future Superfund Site Anabel Basin has the same black mayonnaise in it that Newtown Creek does, the same combined sewer outfall problem that Newtown Creek does, it has all the good stuff that we would talk about in the area around the Pulaski Bridge. So why on earth would you choose this particular location to put Californians and Seattle people who are famously environmentally conscious, why would you put them there? Could it be that you’re going to be visible from the offices of the United Nations? Could it have anything to do with that Manhattan is the center of global investment and that putting yourself there means that you’re going to be a lot sexier to Goldman Sachs and everyone else who will cut you more preferential rates because you know them from drinking with them in a hotel?
The answer is that they came here for Wall Street and they came here to start bolstering their international presence and to start getting ahead of some of the regulatory environment that’s developing internationally around companies like Amazon.
Why is Mayor Bill de Blasio voicing a strong pro-Amazon stance given his progressive reputation?
MW: The “tale of two cities” for me is the tale of Manhattan and Long Island City. Long Island City is where he gets to do what he wants to do. Overbuilt, overdeveloped, not enough infrastructure.
He wants to borrow $18- $20 Billion from the city’s coffers for Sunnyside Yard deck. What they’ll do then is they will give the land away for a dollar an acre to the developers who paid them off to do the project, and the city taxpayers will pay the mortgage on $18 – $20 billion over a 25 year period hamstringing us from doing anything else we need to do.
Conventionally speaking, NYCHA needs $53 billion to bring its housing back up to snuff and to bring the roughly 1/10th of all available apartments that have been out since Hurricane Sandy back into service. If he was the man of the people that’s the direction he would go in.
De Blasio likes to blame all the problems of NYCHA on Mayor Bloomberg. Who was the public advocate during Bloomberg’s last two terms? Who was in the City Council during the last term of Giuliani and the first term of Bloomberg?
Why would Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo agree on something like the Amazon HQ2 deal after disagreeing on nearly everything else?
MW: Both of their political machines are getting fed by the deal. At the top of the food chain, there are people who are Democrats; like the Yankees, they’re just wearing hats.
Amongst the many, many, many things that I disagree with Donald Trump about, the firing of Preet Bharara just as he was drawing in on both the Mayor and the Governor, is something the Mayor and the Governor should fall down and kiss Trump’s feet for. If Preet had continued on with his investigation, I’m certain that the headlines we would be seeing every day would be simultaneous trials for the Governor and the Mayor.
There’s a lot to say about corruption in our city and state always. We have a one-party system. We have different factions of a single political party, and what I am not gonna to do to you as a fellow elected Democrat is put you on trial because you would do the same to me, and that affects the larger party.
Living in a Republic that ostensibly operates as a Democracy, there was no conversation, there was no argument. You had two people who are pro-development, neo-liberal capitalist-oriented Democrats, talking to a neo-liberal corporatist, and deciding for the community in the manner of Nelson Rockefeller, in the manner of Robert Moses, in the manner of Austin Tobin deciding for a community exactly what it is that they needed. And you know what? If you don’t like it you can get out.
Do you see any way that the deal can be improved for New York City residents?
MW: I think it’s a Juggernaut, I think that there is so much money and power behind this thing, and there are soo many people that are going to make their political and personal fortunes being either for or against it that there’s no stopping it. The question is what can we do for us?
I would like to see Amazon’s waterfront remain publicly accessible. I would like to see Amazon on its own admittedly endorsed dime, build a continuation of Gantry Plaza State Park. I would like to see a pedestrian and bicycle bridge across the mouth of Anabel Basin. If I was able to access Amazon’s waterfront, I wouldn’t want to leave Gantry Plaza State Park, walk around Vernon, down 44th and then walk through some kind of gate. I wouldn’t want that at all, I want a continuous waterfront. It’s our waterfront, not theirs.
I would like to see Amazon setup STEM programs at area middle and high schools. The point is, there’s stuff that Amazon can do that will be both tax deductible and would directly benefit the kids in the community. I think for the adults in the community we’re all fucked. Rent is gonna go up all over Western Queens.