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Politics

Greek-American Businessmen Express Disappointment over Amazon

NEW YORK – Amazon’s announcement cancelling plans to establish its second headquarters in Long Island City upset the expectations of the Queens’ business world, which saw it as a great opportunity for rapid economic and social development.

On the opposite side, a part of the community saw the possible arrival of 25,000 workers and the $3 billion tax concessions to Amazon, initially as a huge burden on the region’s marginal utilities, but also would further increase the already high cost of living, which may have “driven out” definitely less privileged citizens from Long Island City, Astoria, Sunnyside, and other areas.

At the same time, it was doubtful whether Amazon would be consistent in its commitment to recruit a certain percentage of workers from Long Island City and the surrounding neighborhoods.

Long Island City, especially if included as a single unit with neighboring Astoria, has longstanding Greek connections, including a significant number in the Greek-American Homeowners Association (GAHA), many real estate professionals and, of course, entrepreneurs. For them, the announcement did not sound good.

GAHA President George Alexiou, the former president George Kitsios, Nick Andriotis, George Delis, and George Stamatiadis, all with experience in business and the real estate market, expressed their disappointment about this development to The National Herald, all noting that “New York missed a great opportunity.”

Equally intense is the debate about the role of Greek-American New York State Senator Michael Gianaris in Amazon’s decision to cancel the deal. The Greek-Americans TNH interviewed, some of whom have supported Gianaris in the past, both with their vote and financially, are mostly disappointed by his stance.

On the same wavelength is businessman, Efstathios Valiotis, as reflected in the letter he sent to TNH which was published in the weekend Greek edition, February 16-17.

Among other things, Valiotis wrote in his letter, “Mr. Gianaris, at your own responsibility, you have shattered what you have been trying to build for so many years as a politician in your region. I’m sorry for your unacceptable attitude. And I know that these views are shared by many Greeks. You have caused great harm to yourself, to your city and to the Hellenism of the region that has supported you.”

At the same time, there are also some like George Delis, who suggested that voters should show their dissatisfaction with Gianaris at the polls when the state senator is next up for reelection.

The assurance is that the “aftershocks” of Amazon’s “Thank you very much, goodbye” will not stop in the near future or be mild. Even if it is suspected that the internet gossip might “bluff” by returning to the negotiating table on its own terms, re-creating plans for a headquarters in Long Island City.

At press time Gianaris has not yet responded to a request from TNH for comment.

Businessman and philanthropist Nick Andriotis told TNH that he was totally disappointed, expressing the view that a “very serious prospect” was lost, especially for the next generations.

“The damage concerns our children. Not just jobs, the job is not just a job, but a future. Work is all about us. But here we were talking about the future,” said Andriotis, who even revealed that he had already planned to connect Amazon with the graduates of St. Demetrios School.

He told TNH, “I had thought of student internships there for the summers, getting acquainted with the company, and applying for a post-university job. What better for some of these children, who would return to their home, Astoria, with the ability to work in one of the largest companies in the world?”

Andriotis also noted the economic benefits many expatriate entrepreneurs and property owners would have had.

“Did we forget that the Greeks have invested fortunes in this area and what would be the benefits? Not only for businessmen, but also for those who have a small house or have rented shops to set up micro-businesses. What about infrastructure? The infrastructure would be created by the company not by us. Besides, it does not all happen overnight,” he said.

As for Gianaris’ attitude, Andriotis was disappointed, but he expressed the conviction that the Greek politician simply followed a wrong tactic. “First of all, I want to believe that Mr. Gianaris did not think that with the tactic he followed, we would lose this opportunity. On the contrary, because he is not new to politics, he should have weighed the options much better. Politics needs diplomacy,” concluded Andriotis.

GAHA President George Alexiou also appeared alarmed by developments in the Amazon issue, stating that a great opportunity to buy real estate was lost and not only.

“It’s not just 25,000 high paid Amazon positions. We would open the market, we would have another 40,000 lower-income jobs, new businesses, restaurants, etc. that would follow. Also, all the vacant apartments in the area would be available. They say about $3 billion in tax benefits. We have had such reactions against the Kaufman Studios, too, and now the film industry is bringing in $10 billion to the city,” said Alexiou.

When asked by TNH about the likelihood that rents would reach (even greater) incongruous heights, he said, “In principle, there is already an increase in rents. For example, Astoria was bought by waiters, cooks, painters, one of them was me, too. Now rents and taxes have gone up high. When you have a couple with two children you need over $2,000 a month to live. And if someone has to work for two weeks to pay the rent, he’s lost. This is happening. It’s not that Amazon would come and it would… ruin the market.”

Gianaris is not an unknown and inaccessible person to the GAHA, but is considered “one of their own.” He has attended their events many times, to the annual Thanksgiving meal for charity and, more generally, has special relations with them.

Alexiou told TNH, “The point is that Mr. Gianaris did not even inform us. Why did not he come to the offices of the GAHA to discuss our positions? We saw him on TV and nothing else. Of course, I am disappointed – and not just me. I have received a lot of phone calls about this issue.”

He wonders if the State Senator with roots in Kalavryta fell into a communication trap, or if those who predict that the issue of the investment has not yet expired will ultimately be justified.

GAHA former president George Kitsios said, “I would not say I’m bitter about Michael Gianaris. But I think he should have treated the issue more carefully. The person good at negotiations is not the one that leads them to an impasse or stops them, but the one who leads them to the desired outcome, overcoming the obstacles.”

According to Kitsios, a possible definitive cancellation of the project would automatically mean a “missed opportunity” for Long Island City and the wider region.

“Remember how Long Island City was once: An area full of ruins, the worst place in Queens. Nowadays modern buildings are being built. The installation of Amazon, for its part, would change all of West Queens. In addition to new jobs and economic growth, it would ‘clean’ it in general, since today it is a bad area, with dilapidated houses, burned factories and the like. Moreover, I do not think that such an agreement would be made without an Environmental Impact Study, both by the company and by the City and the State.”

Indeed, Kitsios said he has a feeling that the cancellation is not definitive but possibly a tactical move.

“I will remind you how Cuomo moved to help St. Nicholas at Ground Zero. There was a confrontation between the Archdiocese, the Port Authority, and the World Trade Center, but finally, with Cuomo’s contribution, the issue was resolved. I have the feeling that Cuomo and de Blasio may intervene without putting others in the middle. That is what I hope will happen,” Kitsios concluded.

George Stamatiades, a longtime businessman in Long Island City, is also disappointed about the evolution of the Amazon case, also calling it a “lost opportunity.”

“The issue is not who would work at Amazon for this money, but that these high-paying jobs would be channeled into the region’s market: In the restaurant business, the service industry, the real estate market. The average worker would not receive such salaries, but that money would circulate, with whatever that entails,” he noted, criticizing the argument of $3 billion in tax concessions.

“First of all, there would not be anyone giving $3 billion cash to Amazon. They were tax concessions over 10 years. At the same time, New York would earn $24 billion. It’s really very short-sighted the way they thought about it. I do not know exactly what Michael Gianaris was thinking about, but about Queens’ future, things are going wrong.”

Finally, for the argument of increasing rents, Stamatiades responded in a strong way.

“Are we kidding? So now the rents will decrease? Go tell that to property owners. Also, go to someone who has a restaurant and say ‘now it’s better, 25,000 people are not coming, the number of your clientele will not increase, it will be good, won’t it?’ It’s a huge opportunity we lost.”

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