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Some New Yorkers Are Wondering What They'll Get Out Of Amazon HQ Deal

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

More now on Amazon's decision to choose New York for one of its new headquarters. The retail giant will set up shop in the neighborhood of Long Island City in Queens. And New York is paying Amazon an estimated $2 billion, among various other incentives. Some New Yorkers are wondering what they get out of the deal, as NPR's Jasmine Garsd reports

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: I'm on the 7 train, heading to Long Island City from Manhattan. Any local will tell you it's a headache - shockingly overcrowded, frequently delayed. That's not something Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has to worry about. The new Long Island City headquarters will include a helipad.

COMPUTER-GENERATED VOICE: Vernon Boulevard - Jackson Avenue.

GARSD: Amazon has promised to bring at least 25,000 jobs to this area. Right outside the subway station, resident Sally Frank (ph) says she's worried. There's already so many commuters, sometimes people wait for several trains to pass before boarding.

SALLY FRANK: I think people are wondering, like, when their subways are going to be fixed and when their sewers are going to be fixed and, you know, when their kids will definitely have a seat to go to school.

GARSD: At a recent press conference, John Schoettler, Amazon's VP of global real estate, addressed this.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

JOHN SCHOETTLER: We will help fund community infrastructure and donate sites for a new public school, a tech startup incubator and - for use by artist and industrial businesses.

GARSD: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, himself a Queens native, has predicted it will give the highest rate of return for an economic incentive program ever in the state's history. There are plenty who disagree.

JIMMY VAN BRAMER: Literally the wealthiest man in the world is extracting scarce public dollars from cities that could, and arguably should, be spending them on other things.

GARSD: City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer says one morning, he was reading the news, and that's how he found out Amazon is planning to move in. He wasn't even consulted on negotiations. He tells me all this as we drive down Vernon Boulevard, one of the main arteries of Long Island City.

VAN BRAMER: There is great concern in the neighborhoods that rents will skyrocket and become unaffordable for everyone but those making $150,000 to $200,000 a year.

GARSD: Long Island City has changed dramatically in the last few years. The streets are lined with posh restaurants and boutiques. In the last few decades, this has morphed from an industrial, low-income area to flashy condos.

But the further we drive, the clearer the income gap becomes.

VAN BRAMER: This to the left is the site.

GARSD: The future Amazon offices will be located in a more industrial, rundown part of the neighborhood. The area was initially intended for affordable housing. That's off the table. And just a few blocks away, Queensbridge - one of the largest public housing complexes in America. Van Bramer wonders, will the people who live here get to apply to any of the jobs Amazon is promising to bring? Will they see any of those historic returns Governor Cuomo touts?

VAN BRAMER: I would feel much better about us throwing $3 billion at solving the crisis in public housing in the city of New York than, for damn sure, throwing it at Jeff Bezos.

GARSD: Van Bramer says he and the city council are exploring legal action. Some locals here in Long Island City say they're excited about Amazon's plans. Others are worried. But what bothers Van Bramer is none of them got much of a say in all this. Jasmine Garsd, NPR News, New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF BREAKBEAT KINGS' "LET ME RIDE (INSTRUMENTAL VERSION)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.