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'Let's Not Blow It': Riled-Up Real Estate Crowd Shouts Down 'Socialists,' Vows To Keep HQ2 In NYC

UPDATE, FEB. 14, 1:30 P.M. ETAmazon has canceled plans to open a headquarters in Long Island City. This story reflects statements made two days before Amazon's latest decisions.

In the months since Amazon announced it would build its second headquarters in New York City, it has been a tale of two competing narratives. On one side, the business and political community eager for the jobs and economic development, another protesting the $3B tax incentive as a corporate giveaway. 

While much of the press coverage has focused on the protests and opposition of the New York City Council, supporters of the deal are rushing to shift public perception and drown out detractors.

HR&A Advisors partner Kate Wittels, Queens Economic Development Corp. Executive Director Seth Bornstein, Modern Spaces CEO and President Eric Benaim and Long Island City Partnership President Elizabeth Lusskin.

Silvercup Studios CEO Alan Suna, who has been active in Queens real estate for nearly 40 years, said at Bisnow’s Amazon HQ2 & the Future of the Innovation Coast event Tuesday it was time to “change the goddamn narrative” and tell “the naysayers, the progressive socialists” that Amazon HQ2 will bring vital economic development.

"What is going to happen in the future in terms of economic development is going to be outstanding," Suna said. "We haven’t ever seen anything like this in the United States of America, and Long Island City is at the pivot point."

On Friday, the Washington Post reported that, faced with staunch opposition and after bruising City Council meetings, Amazon executives are considering pulling out of New York City altogether.

Amazon is still planning on bringing HQ2 to the city, but its most ardent supporters say negative voices could be jeopardizing what will be an economic boon, and it is now crucial to swing community sentiment in favor of the deal.

“Let’s not blow it and let’s really dive in,” Long Island City Partnership President Elizabeth Lusskin said. “Honestly, people have been trying to get an opportunity like this for 40 years."

Silvercup Studios CEO Alan Suna and MNS CEO Andrew Barrocas

Meridian Capital Executive Managing Director David Schechtman said detractors of the deal are a “wall of stupidity.”

"The polarization is foolishness," he said. "Let’s get a huge pocket of money in here and let’s put it to work.”

Where there has been no official indication from Amazon that it has gone cold on New York City, the deal is not done, as executives from the company subtly reminded the city late last month. There is reportedly no signed lease with Savanna’s One Court Square building, and it hasn’t closed on the land that it needs for the site.

Tishman Speyer Senior Managing Director Jeffrey Mandel, Meridian Capital Group Senior Managing Director David Schechtman and DHL Holdings' David Lowenfeld

Lusskin said Amazon representatives were just as surprised by Friday’s report as anyone else, though she added it would be a mistake for New York to take anything for granted.

“Everybody that is involved on the ground is full steam ahead,” she said. “Whatever they meant to signal or not signal … There are many people ready to roll up their sleeves and do what it takes to make sure Amazon knows — and others know — that they are welcome.”

One of the biggest complaints about the deal is the incentive package the Jeff Bezos-led company is set to score: $3B in combined state and city incentives, officials said when the deal was announced last year. However, a report from the City Council’s Finance Committee released last month found Amazon could earn an extra $987M if it hires more than 25,000 workers.

Elected officials like U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, state Sen. Michael Gianaris and Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer have slammed the offer, although U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney and Queens NYCHA tenant representatives attended a rally in favor of the deal in Queens on Monday. 

Tishman Speyer's Jeffrey Mandel, Meridian's David Schechtman, DHL Holdings' David Lowenfeld, Silvercup's Alan Suna, MNS' Andrew Barrocas and Townhouse Partners' Managing Director Eric Herlands

The problem is, supporters say, the some people are hooked on the idea of wealthy Bezos being handed cash. But panelists said the package is being completely misconstrued.

“What people don’t understand is 100% of the money involved is based on performance. Both the as-of-right benefits and the discretionary benefits … There is no $3B check that is being written,” Lusskin said. “It’s not a question that there is some $3B pot there that is getting scooped up and handed to Amazon. These are incentives to make investments."

Modern Spaces CEO Eric Benaim has launched a petition in support of the project, and he said he has several thousand signatures. He implored the hundreds in attendance to sign it at his company's booth.

Industry City Director of Leasing Kathe Chase, RXR Realty Executive Vice President Seth Pinksy and Rubenstein Partners Director of Acquisitions Jeff Fronek

A poll released Tuesday, run by the Siena Research Institute, found more than half of New York state voters are in favor of the deal, The Wall Street Journal reported.

“We need to not make stupid mistakes,” said RXR Realty Executive Vice President Seth Pinsky, who spent a decade working for the Bloomberg administration. “At this point, if Amazon were to leave, decide not to come to New York, I think that would send a horrible signal to the marketplace.”

The deal was a rare moment in which Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who have notoriously feuded, came together and made a joint decision. While the plan they came up with circumvented the City Council, it showed effectiveness for a government usually panned for failing to tackle its most pressing issues.

"The two executives got together, locked arms, and won one for the city of New York and Long Island City," said DHL Holdings founder David Lowenfeld, formerly of World-Wide Holdings. "The tragedy would be seizing defeat from the jaws of victory."

Pinsky said it is fair to question any government maneuver, to ask if elected officials have struck the best deal they could, and certainly fair to interrogate how Amazon conducted its HQ2 search — which asked municipalities to bid for its presence.

But the current conversation, he said, is not based on fact and is circulating on “gotcha moments” and getting media coverage.

Industry City's Kathe Chase, RXR's Seth Pinksy, Rubenstein's Jeff Fronek, Ackman-Ziff Managing Director Chad Sinsheimer, The Durst Oganization principal Helena Durst and RSM partner Troy Merkel

“The bottom line is that our population in the city is growing ... If you want to accommodate that growth and make the city more affordable, you have to create jobs," he said. "The best way to create jobs is to attract companies in the industries that are growing the fastest.”

Panelists said the negative points of view are drowning out widespread support. Lowenfeld urged people to reach out to elected officials if they want to shore up the deal.

“We need to expand the dialogue,” he said. “Everyone needs to be mobilized … We can’t have government by sound bite or by tweet, we need government by policy, and the only way to get that is to demand it.”