Metropolis

Amazon’s New York Headquarters Will Have a Helipad Because of Course It Will

A helicopter with the Amazon logo superimposed on the exterior.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by RomanBabakin/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Jeff Bezos is not commuting on the 7 train.

Absent from Amazon’s summary of its plans for its new New York location and buried in a 32-page memorandum of understanding with the city and state is the assurance that New York will help Amazon build a helipad at its new site on the East River waterfront:

The Public Parties recognize that the Company needs access to the Development Sites and agree to assist in securing access to a helipad on the Development Sites, as part of the Development Plan and subject to FAA approval. If the Public Parties and the Company mutually agree that an onsite helipad is not feasible, the Public Parties will assist the Company in securing access to a helipad in an alternative location in reasonable proximity to the Development Sites. 

That’s a rare thing for a company to have in New York: Rooftop helipads have been banned since 9/11, so even Manhattan’s high rollers have to make their way through the filthy streets to riverside helipads when they head for the airport or the Hamptons.

The plan comes with a few caveats: The company pledges not to let anyone else use the helipad, and to limit landings to 120 a year—far below the rate at Manhattan’s busy commercial helipads. Amazon also says it will pay for the helipad, though the state is covering most of its other construction costs.

While Amazon’s agreement with New York doesn’t require the company to make any contributions to the city’s flagging subway system, the company will make “payments in lieu of property taxes” to the state’s Empire State Development Corporation, at least half of which will be assigned to the New York City Economic Development Corporation for an “Infrastructure Fund.” That fund will support projects “including but not limited to streets, sidewalks, utility relocations, environmental remediation, public open space, transportation, schools and signage,” beyond the company’s property but in the neighborhood.

The helipad project, however, sets up one of many potential showdowns between Amazon and the New York City Council, which was bypassed in the city and state’s negotiations with the company. The City Council has clamped down on helicopter use in recent years because of noise complaints.

More than that, though, the helipad is a symbol of a company whose leaders—in transportation as in tax policy—appear intent on avoiding the same systems that the rest of the city uses.