The deal to bring Amazon to Long Island City, at a cost of more than $2 billion in government incentives, has sparked outrage in many corners of New York City, particularly in Queens, where residents and elected officials have vowed resistance.
The anger is real: More than 100 people gathered Wednesday at a protest near the proposed site of Amazon’s new offices, where the company has promised to employ more than 25,000 people in exchange for tax credits, direct state grants and city tax incentives.
“Stay the Helipad Out,” one sign read, a reference to Amazon getting the right to a helipad for its chief executive officer, Jeff Bezos.
But the opponents’ challenge is daunting: The deal reached between Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Amazon was explicitly constructed to minimize the ability of local politicians to block it. The company would not agree to come to New York City, Mr. de Blasio said, unless it could be assured it would not have to go through the lengthy process of approvals that would give the City Council veto power.
The closed-door deal to avoid local review has angered many Council members and state legislators, some of whom appeared at Wednesday’s rally.
“Why did they usurp the ability of the Council to do its job?” asked a newly elected assemblywoman, Catalina Cruz, who represents the nearby Queens neighborhoods of Jackson Heights, Corona and Elmhurst. “Because it’s not good for our community.”
But what can opponents actually do to stop it?
There’s limited hope at the city level
New York State has essentially taken over the process using what’s known as a General Project Plan. The approach is not unique to Amazon’s deal, and has been used in other major developments, including Atlantic Yards, a former sprawling rail yard in Brooklyn.
The City Council could try to alter or eliminate the tax breaks promised Amazon by the city, public policy experts said, but those are not unique to Amazon, and any changes would similarly affect other companies’ tax packages.
The State Legislature — soon to be dominated by Democrats — will also at some point have to extend the Excelsior tax credit program, which is providing $1.2 billion in tax incentives to Amazon and expires in 2026. The cap on those credits may also need to be raised. But nothing has to be done imminently, and the opposition in Albany is not uniform.
Carl Heastie, the Assembly speaker, said in a statement that if the state’s economic projections are correct, “this deal has the potential to more than pay for itself.” The Bronx Democrat added, “Of course we take our role in approving aspects of this deal very seriously and we will be closely reviewing it.”
Wait. Aren’t there people who review this sort of thing?
There will likely be a state-run environmental review to examine the impact of the Amazon development. But the input from local officials is only advisory. Opponents would not be able to block the deal — something they could have done if it went through the City Council.
One or more government boards must also review elements of the plan and the incentive package before it goes into effect. One of those, the Empire State Development board, is controlled by Mr. Cuomo’s executive branch and is an unlikely avenue for opponents.
Detractors may find that they have the most leverage at the obscure, five-member Public Authorities Control Board, which reviews and approves certain financing deals by state authorities. Some aspects of the Amazon deal, such as a $500 million state grant, are likely to go before that board, experts said.
“The Public Authority Control Board will likely have to approve the agreement,” said David J. Friedfel, director of state studies at the nonpartisan Citizens Budget Commission.
The board is led by an appointee of the governor, but gives veto power to the Assembly speaker and the Senate leader, through their representatives, said E.J. McMahon, research director for the Empire Center for Public Policy, a research organization in Albany.
“It’s the main choke point,” he said.
In 2005, the board rejected Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s plans for a stadium for the Far West Side of Manhattan as part of the city’s failed bid for the 2012 Olympics.
But some critics believe that, too, could be an uphill battle.
The board’s chairman, Robert F. Mujica Jr., said it would not necessarily review the state’s incentive package.
“The capital grant does not have to go through P.A.C.B.,” Mr. Mujica, who was appointed by Mr. Cuomo, said in an interview on Wednesday.
But what if I like uphill battles?
The prime option is to continue to publicly pressure Amazon.
Hearings, even if they are nonbinding, could increase negative attention on the company, as could a court fight. Opponents of the Atlantic Yards development spent years in court and successfully trained negative attention on that plan. But they ultimately failed to stop the project, which includes the Barclays Center arena.
“The best strategy is to fight it by making Amazon feel uncomfortable coming to New York,” said Dan Branda, director of policy at Reclaim New York, a government advocacy group that has received backing from some prominent conservatives.
“All of these battles are uphill battles.”
Some opponents might be content to win a few concessions from the company, said James Parrott, director of economic and fiscal policy at the New School. “There’s certainly value in raising community concern and pushback from taxpayers, with the objective of trying to get enhanced commitments out of Amazon from this,” he said.
Others simply want Amazon to stay out of New York City.
“The leverage point, I think we saw it today: The outpouring of opposition to this proposal,” said Stuart Appelbaum, whose union, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, took part in Wednesday’s protest in Queens. He spoke by phone from a meeting in Geneva of international unions opposed to Amazon.
“Their business model depends on low taxes and low wages and a reduction of workers rights,” he said. “Is this the behavior that New York wants to reward?”
By the end of Wednesday, at least one possible presidential contender had begun criticizing the deal: Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.
Nate Schweber contributed reporting.