The Real Deal New York

Lichtenstein on Amazon pullout: “Worst day for NYC since 9-11”

Developer lambasts politicians who stymied deal for megacomplex
By Hiten Samtani | February 15, 2019 12:44PM

David Lichtenstein and Long Island City

Lightstone Group’s David Lichtenstein said Friday that Amazon’s about-face on its New York megacomplex was the “worst day for NYC since 9-11.”

“Except this time, the terrorists were elected,” the developer added in an email to The Real Deal, in a dig to the politicians who fiercely criticized the tech giant’s deal with the city for the nearly $3 billion in tax breaks and government incentives it came with. (Lichtenstein later emphasized that he was referring only to the financial implications the Amazon pullout will cause.)

On Thursday, Amazon cited pressure from the local politicians as its reason to abandon the deal for the Long Island City campus, which was to bring 25,000 new jobs to New York and would create, by some expectations, $27 billion in tax revenue over a decade.

Since November, Amazon had faced fierce backlash from elected officials, activists and union leaders, who criticized the secretive nature of the negotiations between the company and the city and state, and who argued that the world’s most valuable company did not need to be cajoled with tax breaks to come to New York.

Among the deal’s most vocal critics: State Sen. Michael Gianaris of Queens, who was named to a board that had veto power over the plan; Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose congressional district borders the one where the complex would rise; and leaders from the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store union.

“A number of state and local politicians have made it clear that they oppose our presence and will not work with us to build the type of relationships that are required to go forward,” Amazon said in a statement Thursday explaining its decision to drop the plans.

Lightstone is a major developer with a $3 billion portfolio across New York, Miami and Los Angeles. In Long Island City, Lightstone owns a 428-unit rental building less than two miles from where Amazon’s campus was set to rise. 

Lichtenstein is among several industry figures who’ve addressed losing out on the Amazon campus, which the real-estate industry felt would be a major boost to both the residential and commercial markets. “The future of the neighborhood is still going to happen,” said Robert Whalen, Halstead’s director of leasing in Long Island City, “but Amazon could’ve accelerated the process.” Dave Maundrell, of Citi Habitats, said that without Amazon, “we’re back to where we were six months ago. The market’s gonna go back down.”

Kathryn Wylde, who leads the pro-business group Partnership for New York City, said that “we competed successfully, made a deal and spent the last three months trashing our new partner.” Seth Pinsky of RXR Realty echoed her sentiments, telling the Wall Street Journal that “for some of the people opposing the project it was kind of a game.”

“They enjoyed being the center of attention and having their statements tweeted and retweeted,” Pinsky added. “But this isn’t a game.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified Ocasio-Cortez’s district. It borders the one where Amazon’s campus was set to rise.

Update: This story was updated with additional remarks from Lichtenstein.