The Real Deal New York

This tax break could be worth up to nearly $1B for Amazon

With 25K employees, HQ2 could be the largest to claim REAP tax benefit
By Rich Bockmann | November 09, 2018 04:00PM

From left: One Court Square, Jeff Bezos, and a pile of cash (Credit: One Court Square and Getty Images)

Officials have kept quiet any economic incentives they’re offering Amazon to move part of its second headquarters to Long Island City. But there’s one benefit already on the table that could be worth up to nearly $1 billion for the e-commerce giant.

By opening an office in Queens and hiring new employees, Amazon would automatically qualify for the Relocation and Employment Assistance Program, which offers companies a tax credit for each employee they hire at a new office in the outer boroughs and parts of Upper Manhattan.

The program gives companies a tax credit of $3,000 per employee for 12 years, which means if Amazon were to hire 25,000 employees, the company’s REAP benefits would total $900 million over that time period.

The Seattle-based company, which did not respond to a request for comment, has faced criticism for compelling municipalities to compete against each other by opening their checkbooks to land the HQ2 assignment. The REAP benefit, however, is an as-of-right program, and is available to any company that relocates an office to the approved areas.

“The point of the program was to encourage growth in the outer boroughs,” said Ross Moskowitz, an attorney at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan who specializes in public-private real estate deals. “And it’s available to all companies that meet the minimum requirements. It’s not unique to Amazon.”

Still, Amazon could draw on the REAP program on a scale not seen before.

The total cost to the city from foregone taxes through REAP is $32 million for the current fiscal year, according to the city Department of Finance’s latest report on tax expenditures.

Amazon has said it plans to hire employees in a span of 10 to 15 years, so it’s not as though a full 25,000-person workforce would hit the tax rolls all at once. But if the company does hire 25,000 employees within any 12-year period, the full annual cost would be $75 million, which would more than triple the current level.

Steve Polivy, an attorney at Akerman who focuses on arranging incentives for companies, said he can’t recall any firm taking advantage of REAP on the scale Amazon could.

“No, not on the order of 25,000 jobs,” he said.

Some states have offered Amazon billions of dollars in incentives, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said he is doing everything he can to lure the tech giant, even joking he’d change his name to “Amazon Cuomo” and rename Newtown Creek the “Amazon River.”

But Cuomo’s been tight-lipped about the specific incentives he’s putting on the table. And the New York City Economic Development Corporation has refused to give details about the proposal it submitted to Amazon in October of last year, denying Freedom of Information Law requests by The Real Deal and other organizations.

One tool the governor has is to offer Excelsior Jobs Program tax credits, which has so far committed more than $1.04 billion in tax credits across the state, according to a quarterly report from March.

Others, though, have been more resistant to offering incentives. Mayor Bill de Blasio said he “[does] not believe in subsidies to corporations for retention or to attract corporations,” and said for months city staffers have been giving Amazon leaders site tours.

Long Island City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer and State Senator Michael Gianaris – who, following Tuesday’s election, is set to be the second most-powerful Democrat in the state Senate next year – have both said they oppose giving incentives.

“There’s never been an economic deal like this,” said Gianaris, who added he’d oppose giving “gobs of money” to Amazon.

Even fellow tech companies like Facebook and Google have criticized Amazon, saying they’ve grown in New York City without gouging taxpayers with incentives.

Still, others have come out in support of incentives. Akerman’s Polivy, speaking of the REAP program, said there’s a significant difference between companies that have grown organically in Manhattan and those who choose to open new offices in the outer boroughs.

“Google and Facebook didn’t say they were relocating a headquarters here,” he said. “There’s a real difference, a real advantage here, to the city having part of the Amazon headquarters here in New York City and in Long Island City.”