Our Views: What Amazon says about Nassau

Our Views: What Amazon says about Nassau

Amazon set off a minor frenzy among states and municipalities last week when the company announced that it planned to build a second headquarters in North America, a huge new development that would cost as much as $5 billion to build and would house as many as 50,000 employees with an average salary of $100,000.

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, who abandoned a re-election bid after he was indicted on charges of political corruption, was silent on the opportunity.

But one of the candidates vying to replace Mangano, former state Sen. Jack Martins, announced in a news release that he had contacted Amazon to “suggest” Nassau County would be a great location for its new headquarters, citing an Amazon announcement that it planned to open a fulfillment center in Staten Island.

We are not sure if Martins’ announcement had more to do with his campaign than attracting Amazon. A memo to the Republican candidate: Amazon has fulfillment centers across the country.

We are also concerned that Martins’ tough rhetoric about the country’s immigration and “sanctuary cities,” which at times echoed that of President Donald Trump, is out of step with tech companies like Amazon — a third of whose founders are immigrants.

Amazon was one of several that promised to oppose Trump’s decision to end the DACA program.

But attracting a company like Amazon or — much more likely — a bunch of companies that could add up to one Amazon is a worthy goal, especially for a cash-strapped county with high taxes like Nassau.

It also raises important issues about Nassau County and its future.

Amazon listed a series of requirements for the new location which, when completed, could span 100 acres with up to eight million square feet of building space. Included was an urban or suburban area, with access to major highways, airports, public transportation and a robust technology workforce.

The new site, the company said, could have a similar layout to its Seattle headquarters, including an urban or downtown campus that allows 55 percent of its employees in Seattle to walk, bike or use mass transit to get to work.

Nassau would have to go a long distance to fulfill those requirements. But  there may be a bigger problem.

Amazon’s requirements also have a familiar ring to Nassau County residents.

In 2004, then New York Islanders owner Charles Wang proposed a $3.7 billion plan to transform Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum and the 77 acres that surround it — the most likely location for the type of development Amazon is proposing. Wang envisioned a modern suburban area with houses, offices, restaurants, stores and Long Island’s first five-star hotel — also similar to the downtown campus for which Amazon is calling.

The plan, he said, would generate $71 million in annual tax revenues; others said the plan was needed to keep the Islanders on Long Island.

Spoiler alert: the Islanders no longer play on Long Island.

Wang’s plan died when the Town of Hempstead and then Town Supervisor Kate Murray backed a zoning plan that cut the density of Wang’s project in half. Some said Hempstead Republicans were concerned that new housing would bring more younger and minority voters who would threaten their lock on Hempstead politics.

That one of the three towns in Nassau County could kill a deal so important to the county’s future helps explain why, as Martins noted in his release, “there are no Fortune 500 companies based in Nassau County, though there is one based in Suffolk County and 16 in Northern New Jersey.”

Economic development in Nassau is handcuffed by the dozens of government jurisdictions that operate in Nassau County — from county to town to village — each working independently of each other.

To see how other places do it, just look across the county line to New York City when Michael Bloomberg was mayor of New York City. His administration developed a plan to rezone the city — all five boroughs. The results can be seen in places like Long Island City where a virtual city has risen in the footprint of Bloomberg’s plan for an Olympic village, the extension of Battery Park and the development of downtown Brooklyn, where the Islanders now play.

And guess which city is the engine driving the state’s technology sector?

With the general election campaign for county executive now underway, Martins and Democrat Laura Curran should be asked how they will handle economic development in general and the hub around the Coliseum in particular.

Will they support development in the hub that makes it the center of Nassau County, and even serve as the county’s downtown?

What will they do about mass transit? How will they handle a town capable of putting the kibosh on any big plans?

There are also questions of how much Nassau would be willing to give in the kind of tax breaks Amazon is seeking that would be paid for at least in part by businesses Amazon is trying to replace.

But most important: what they will do the next time opportunity knocks? Or to create the opportunity when none exists?

No posts to display


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here