Moneybox

Amazon Is Shopping for Office Space in Manhattan, Proving HQ2 Haters Pretty Much Entirely Right

Amazon and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos provides the keynote address at the Air Force Association's Annual Air, Space & Cyber Conference in Oxen Hill, MD, on September 19, 2018. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP)        (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Jeff Bezos, crying back.
Jim Watson/Getty Images

Amazon is reportedly back in the market for office space in New York City, which, if true, is a sweet bit of vindication for critics of the company’s whole HQ2 fracas.

In February, Amazon dropped its plans to build a massive office complex in Queens amid political blowback over a package of state and city subsidies the project would have received. Now, according to the New York Post, the company is shopping for real estate on the West Side of Manhattan. “The tech giant has been in talks with owners of two shiny new skyscrapers located just one block west of Penn Station — the newly built One Manhattan West and its soon-to-be sister project, Two Manhattan West,” the paper reports, citing “sources.” The company, which already has 5,000 employees in the city, is apparently looking for 100,000 square feet or “much more.”

That footprint is significantly smaller than the 4 million to 8 million square feet of space Amazon planned to build out for its HQ2 project. But the fact that the company is still planning to grow its New York presence without a large, specially crafted subsidy package seems to prove the basic point many of the deal’s critics made, which is that major cities with large pools of business and engineering talent do not need to stoop to corporate welfare in order to attract major tech companies, which tend to go where they can find enough employees.

The sweeteners that New York offered Jeff Bezos to move to Queens—some of which, to be fair, would have been open to any company by law—may have encouraged him to plan a bigger immediate expansion in the New York area. But the “much more” in the Post report implies that Amazon may well add more space and workers in New York over time. Meanwhile, the real estate the the company was eyeing in Long Island City, which was already one of the fastest growing residential neighborhoods in the country, can still be used for another productive project like housing, and we don’t have to worry about the bad precedent of HQ2 encouraging other companies to sweat the state and city for tax breaks. Personally, I’m feeling pretty good about what I wrote last year:

Even if the incentive package [Cuomo] gave Amazon convinced it to pick New York over, say, Dallas, something else probably would have grown in the company’s absence. The counterfactual to consider isn’t Amazon or nothing. It’s probably Amazon or a bunch of new housing, or some other tech company and a smaller Amazon office.

The Post is framing its scoop as a giant black eye for left-wing politicians who opposed the HQ2 deal. “Amazon’s renewed focus on Manhattan so soon after dropping its plans for Queens is an apparent rebuke to the politicians who helped scuttle Amazon’s plans to build a 4 million-square-foot campus in LIC, including US Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, sources said,” the paper writes. It is unclear who those sources are, or if they speak for the company, but the line isn’t especially convincing since, again, having Amazon lease open office space in Manhattan while leaving more room for rental development in Queens is a pretty happy ending for all involved. But if tech giants want to own New York’s libs by moving to the city without billions in subsidies, more power to them.