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Shawn Dixon (left) worries about his neighborhood and business when Amazon comes to town. (GeekWire Photo / Monica Nickelsburg)

NEW YORK — Shawn Dixon’s life changed overnight.

On Tuesday he was surprised to learn that Amazon plans to build a giant campus with room for thousands of high-paid workers on the same block as the small business he owns, Otis & Finn Barbershop. “We woke up yesterday with our whole world upside down,” Dixon said.

The announcement that one half of Amazon HQ2 is moving into his neighborhood — Long Island City in Queens, New York — motivated Dixon to attend a protest of Amazon’s future campus Wednesday. He was joined by elected officials, labor leaders, and activists who gathered to speak out against the tax incentives, government subsidies and other perks — including a helipad — that New York is offering Amazon in exchange for the thousands of jobs the company promises to bring.

“We’re worried about our ability to stay in the neighborhood,” Dixon said. “I’m not against growth and I’m not against Amazon but what I’m against is giving away all this money to one of the richest companies in the world when our schools are underfunded, we don’t have schools in this neighborhood, the trains don’t run here, and small business owners have no protections.”

New York Sen. Michael Gianaris speaks at a rally protesting Amazon HQ2 in Queens. (GeekWire Photo / Monica Nickelsburg)

The rally was organized by New York State Sen. Michael Gianaris, who represents the Queens neighborhood Amazon is moving into. “By the way, Amazon was coming here without all this money anyway,” Gianaris said when he took the podium.

Amazon revealed New York City and Northern Virginia as the winners of its year-long second headquarters competition Tuesday. It concluded a remarkable public competition in which cities offered tax incentives and other perks in the hopes of luring Amazon.

Anti-Amazon grafiti already awaits the company in its new neighborhood. (GeekWire Photo / Monica Nickelsburg)

In addition to hiring 25,000 workers with average salaries of $150,000, Amazon plans to create a startup incubator on its new Queens campus. The company will also donate a site for a public primary and intermediate school in the area. That fits in with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ broader focus on early education. This summer, he announced a new philanthropic fund that will create a network of tuition-free preschools.


In exchange for what Amazon is bringing to Queens, the company will receive $1.525 billion in incentives — about $48,000 for each job. New York is making myriad other concessions to Amazon, including allowing construction of a helipad so executives can easily access the campus.

“We should be investing in housing and hot water, not in helicopters,” said Michael Blake, a New York assemblyman, at the rally Wednesday.

New York Assemblyman Michael Blake takes the podium. (GeekWire Photo / Monica Nickelsburg)

But many current and past government officials celebrated Amazon’s decision as a win. Former New York mayor and business leader Michael Bloomberg called it “an affirmation not only of NYC’s growing tech talent, but also of all the investments — in housing, schools, parks, transportation, and culture — that have turned LIC into such a thriving neighborhood” on Twitter.

It was clear, even at Wednesday’s rally, that New Yorkers are divided on Amazon coming to town. As Gianaris lambasted his colleagues for granting subsidies to Amazon, a truck drove by honking and extolling the virtues of the company’s popular Prime membership.

Gil Lopez pleads for affordable housing at Long Island City protest. (GeekWire Photo / Monica Nickelsburg)

One of Amazon’s new homes is a building called One Court Square, identifiable by the Citi logo crowning the skyscraper, which is visible across the East River from Manhattan. The building’s anchor tenant, Citi, plans to move most of its employees out in 2020, leaving 1 million square feet of office space vacant.

Amazon will begin its Long Island City project in January 2019 and hire 25,000 employees by 2028, according to a memorandum of understanding between the company and New York officials. The headquarters will occupy between 4-8 million square feet of office space. By completion of the project in 2033, Amazon could hire up to 40,000 jobs, the document says.

We’ve contacted Amazon for comment, and will update this post with any response from the company. Some officials in New York have welcomed Amazon’s decision, and the Empire State Building was bathed in orange light Tuesday night after the tech giant revealed its choice.

“With an average salary of $150,000 per year for the tens of thousands of new jobs Amazon is creating in Queens, economic opportunity and investment will flourish for the entire region,” said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a statement released with Amazon’s announcement.

(GeekWire Photo / Monica Nickelsburg)

Unconvinced, activists in Long Island City vowed to fight Amazon’s plan Wednesday, criticizing the bidding process’s lack of transparency.

“I’m not against Amazon but I am against the way this is happening,” Dixon said. “I think there was a way that this could’ve been done in a different manner and it would’ve been right, to make things right for the community. The way it’s going now is not good.”

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