Posts tagged with "Amazon":

Placeholder Alt Text

Amazon’s new Queens campus might displace 1,500 affordable units

Amazon’s confirmation earlier this month that it would be dropping one half of its future campus in Long Island City (LIC), Queens, immediately drew condemnation from state representatives and a group of New York City’s elected officials. As the furor grew over Governor Andrew Cuomo’s plan to rezone a portion of LIC for the tech giant’s campus, Cuomo released an op-ed today where he hit back at critics of the plan and touted the economic growth that Amazon would bring to New York. Housing affordability had been a point of contention among critics of the $3 billion in subsidies that Amazon will be receiving, and a new report from Politico shows that Amazon’s campus will preclude the creation of 1,500 affordable housing units. Amazon’s investment in the city won’t be insignificant. According to the Office of the Mayor, the online retail behemoth is expected to create 25,000 new jobs by 2029, going up to 40,000 in 2034. In 2019, Amazon will take half-a-million square feet of office space at One Court Square (the Citigroup Building) while their 4-million-square-foot headquarters on the LIC waterfront is under construction. Once work wraps up in 2029, Amazon is expecting to potentially add another 4 million square feet to their campus by 2034. The site of this future development? Anable Basin, an industrial enclave currently owned by the plastic company Plaxall. Plaxall had been gearing up to enact a WXY-master-planned redevelopment of their 15-acre site that would have created 5,000 new residential units, 1,250 of them affordable. Developer TF Cornerstone was also set to build their own 250 affordable apartments on an adjacent site owned by the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), but that project has also been subsumed. An Amazon spokesperson has confirmed to Politico that the no housing will be built on their Queens campus. Long Island City is home to the Queensbridge Houses, the largest public housing development in the Western Hemisphere, but the official line from the de Blasio administration is that the Amazon campus will only be a net positive for the area. A spokesperson for the NYCEDC told Politico that HQ2 will buoy the neighborhood economically, and Mayor de Blasio seemed to agree. “One of the biggest companies on earth next to the biggest public housing development in the United States—the synergy is going to be extraordinary,” said de Blasio.
Placeholder Alt Text

Governor Cuomo proposes rezoning in Long Island City as Amazon confirms HQ2 locations

Now that Amazon has officially confirmed that it will split its second headquarters between Long Island City, Queens, and Crystal City in Arlington, Virginia, each city is gearing up to address the logistical concerns of dropping in 25,000 new tech employees. To that end, New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo is reportedly planning to rezone the 20-acre Anable Basin site in Long Island City (LIC) using a General Project Plan (GPP) to accommodate the online retail giant. Though the area is currently zoned as a light manufacturing district, its owner, the plastic container company Plaxall, had previously tapped WXY for a master plan that would redevelop the industrial zone into a mixed-use redevelopment. Using a GPP, the same process used to rezone Brooklyn’s Pacific Park (neé Atlantic Yards), the state would potentially be able to initiate a rezoning of Anable Basin without the approval of New York’s City Council. As a result, the basin and two adjacent city-owned sites that Amazon has been eyeing could potentially become a mixed-use campus and series of office buildings, zoned at a much higher density than New York’s zoning code would typically allow. The Plaxall draft plan had previously angled to build 5,000 residential units, but as Crain’s noted, the GPP would allow for millions of square feet of office, residential, and mixed-use space. Although the GPP would still require an environmental review and is subject to community input during that phase, all of the recommendations received from the local community board and City Planning Commission would be non-binding. The pushback from New Yorkers against Amazon’s decision was nearly immediate. The backlash was built on a number of factors, including concerns over affordable housing in Queens, transportation issues, fears that Amazon’s influence would price out the borough’s diverse residents, and anger over the amount of state and city money being handed to the company. In Amazon’s official HQ2 press release this morning, the company disclosed that New York State would be giving away $1.525 billion in tax credits. Most of that, $1.2 billion, would be returned through New York State’s Excelsior Program over 10 years, subsidizing each employee to the tune of $48,000. The remaining $325 million will be given to Amazon in the form of a direct grant from Empire State Development, based on the amount of square footage it’s expected to occupy. In return, Amazon has pledged to invest $2.5 billion in each portion of its dual headquarters. A portion of the property taxes from the new Amazon campus will go toward funding transportation improvements in Long Island City, and the tech company has also promised to carve out space for a tech incubator and public primary school. Still, those concessions haven’t mollified critics. As soon as Amazon’s decision to settle in Queens was leaked last week, New York’s incoming, newly-democrat controlled state senate and assembly pledged to stop the flow of taxpayer money to Amazon. Democratic Assemblyman Ron Kim told Capital & Main that he would look into rerouting the state’s economic development money (mainly corporate subsidies) into student debt relief, and called the correlation between tax breaks and corporate incentives unhealthy. On Twitter, western Queens representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez let loose with a thread blasting Albany for giving away over a billion dollars in tax breaks when Amazon hasn’t initiated hiring quotas, protection for workers, or any promise to avoid displacing long-time LIC residents. State Senator Michael Gianaris and Queens Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer also released a joint statement outlining their problems with what they described as a “massive corporate welfare” giveaway. In the release, both offices went on record as calling the Amazon deal a giveaway from the 99 percent to prop up the 1 percent. It remains to be seen how effective these protests will be, or whether state-level legislators will be able to wring any concessions out of either Amazon or the Cuomo administration. In related news, Amazon also announced their intention to bring an “East Coast hub” to Nashville that would employ up to 5,000. The company will be building out one million square feet of energy-efficient efficient office space while investing $230 million in the city and expects to pay $1 billion in taxes over the next ten years. In return, Nashville has promised up to $102 million in tax incentives depending on whether Amazon hits its hiring targets. Amazon will begin hiring for all three of the newly revealed locations sometime in 2019, though it may take up to 15 years for the LIC and Crystal City locations to fully integrate their 25,000 employees.
Placeholder Alt Text

Amazon to split HQ2 between New York and Virginia, but can they handle it?

Only hours after the news leaked that Amazon was considering Crystal City, a suburb in Arlington, Virginia, that bounds D.C. for the site of its second headquarters, sources are reporting that two cities will actually be taking home a shiny new HQ2. Long Island City in Queens and Crystal City in Northern Virginia will both be getting a mini-HQ2 of sorts and the accompanying 25,000 employees, raising concerns that both neighborhoods will soon face an influx of wealthier residents that will further strain already stressed housing and transportation systems. Although the Chicago Tribune noted that Amazon’s decision to split up its headquarters may have been to head off criticism that it would overburden any city that HQ2 landed in (echoing complaints of Seattle residents), it may not be enough. Over the last year, 1,436 new residential units were built in Long Island City during a time when New York is already struggling—and using increasingly novel means—to hit affordable housing goals. The decision appears to have been weeks, if not months, in the making. Both Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio have met with representatives of Amazon in the past few weeks, with the mayor’s office leading tours of the Queens neighborhood. Just last week, the city announced that it would be infusing the waterfront neighborhood with $180 million in investments toward improving schools, infrastructure, transportation, and open space; it now appears that the announcement’s timing was more than coincidental. The city may also be banking on the future development of Sunnyside Yard, the 180-acre active rail yard situated between Long Island City and Sunnyside, to soak up some of the expected influx of new residents. Although Long Island City, directly across the East River from Midtown Manhattan, is served by eight subway lines, the Long Island Railroad, and easy connections to both John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia airports, New York’s subway and bus systems are already in the middle of a crisis. Sky-high ridership in recent years, overcrowding, cascading mechanical failures, and struggles to find the funding necessary to fix the subways’ most pressing issues have all contributed to a decrease in the quality of New York’s transportation network. Governor Cuomo, for his part, has been quiet on whether the incentives offered to Amazon include money to improve, or at least fortify, the subway system, though to this point, the administration has already pledged hundreds of millions of dollars in tax incentives. Yesterday, the governor joked that he’d go as far as to “change my name to Amazon Cuomo if that's what it takes." We’ll see if he follows through.
Placeholder Alt Text

Amazon in “advanced talks” with three cities for HQ2 as info leaks

Sources close to the selection of Amazon’s future second headquarters (HQ2) have reportedly released details that the company’s refined shortlist comprises New York, Dallas, and Crystal City in Arlington, Virginia. While nothing is set in stone, Amazon seems to be furthest along in the selection process with Crystal City—up to the point of scouting out potential real estate locations in the city and discussing how long it would take to move in a first wave of employees. At the time of writing, the Wall Street Journal and New York Times have reported that Amazon may be splitting its future HQ2 across two cities, New York and a location in Arlington, with 25,000 employees in each. Amazon first announced the search for a second home in September of 2017, and 238 cities from across the U.S. and Canada all put in their bid to attract the online retail giant and its shiny new $5 billion headquarters and associated 50,000 jobs. The process certainly hasn’t been rushed, as it took Amazon until January of 2018 to release their 20 city shortlist. No major announcement will come until after the midterm elections on November 6, but the selection of the final site is slated to be revealed before the end of the year. Northern Virginia was always a favored contender to receive HQ2 owing to its proximity to Washington D.C. (and as sardonic Twitter posters noted, the location of Jeff Bezos’s newly renovated mansion) and other major eastern cities, and the available stock of occupiable office buildings. Although talks are still advancing with representatives in New York and Dallas, this could be to prime a backup location in case Crystal City falls through. HQ2 is slated to start operating in 2019, which means that Amazon will have to be ready to hit the ground running with their new headquarters. Lending credence to the Crystal City speculation was a tweet from Mike Grella, Amazon’s director of economic development, who lashed out at the leakers, saying they weren’t “doing Crystal City, VA any favors.” If Crystal City or the Northern Virginia area really have been favored all along, it could raise questions of whether the other cities wasted their time and money in putting together bids. Worse yet, critics have alleged that Amazon had been sussing out what incentives they could wring from each city, and has even gone against their own selection criteria in drawing up the shortlist. AN will follow up on this story later this year when the final location of HQ2 is made public.
Placeholder Alt Text

Amazon is bringing its seamless automated grocery store to New York

Imagine a world where artificial intelligence tracks your every movement. A world where buildings have minds of their own, learning your behaviors, and collecting data from you as you come and go. While existing technology has not yet reached sci-fi levels, a visit to an Amazon Go grocery store can offer you a peek into this possible future of retail design. This week Amazon announced its plans to open a new store in New York, the first of its kind on the East Coast, before opening nearly 3,000 more nationwide by 2021. The company has already built out six Amazon Go stores in Seattle, Chicago, and San Francisco. The cutting-edge stores, as shown within its first locations, are characterized by visual simplicity, clarity, and hyper-functionality. Through the stores' structural elements, including minimalistic facades, geometric configurations, and exposed raw materials, such as wood veneer and polished concrete, the interiors assume an industrial feel. They feature muted colors and black merchandise racks that give the stores a clean appearance as well. Meanwhile, ceiling cameras monitor shoppers as they wander through the aisles. The stores are unique in that they are void of cashiers, cash registers, and self-service checkout stands. Customers only need to walk in, take what they need, and leave. As they swing through the turnstiles on their way out, Amazon automatically bills their credit cards. Within minutes, a receipt is sent to the Amazon app, giving customers a summary of what they bought, what they paid, and the exact amount of time they spent in the store. The stores, which depend on highly sophisticated image recognition software and artificial intelligence to function, are expected to drastically transform the retail experience in unexpected ways. Amazon began working on retail stores five years ago with the goal of eliminating consumer criticisms and complaints, such as struggling to find products and waiting in long lines. Since the first Amazon Go store opened last January in Seattle, it has received tremendous praise and success. According to CNN, highly automated retail stores like Amazon Go are expected to become the norm within as little as 10 to 15 years. Research has shown that up to 7.5 million retail jobs are at risk of automation in the next decade, which will save retailers money on labor, as well as boost profits, but obviously cost retail workers their livelihood. Automated stores can facilitate the ordering and restocking process as cameras and AI track inventory in real-time. The removal of cash registers provides more space for inventory. Customer data can also be uploaded to the servers of each building, where retailers can present them with personalized discounts, offers, and other incentives. While Amazon has confirmed plans to open an Amazon Go store in New York, its location has yet to be determined.
Placeholder Alt Text

How Amazon achieved crystal clarity in its glass domes

NBBJ designed a trio of connected glass orbs with living walls at the new Seattle headquarters for online retail giant Amazon. According to an announcement on Amazon’s blog, the spherical design—a project seven years in the making—was “chosen due to its natural occurrence in nature and as a nod to historic conservatories, like Kew Gardens.” This atypical meeting place away from the typical office towers provides a treehouse-like environment for employees, complete with terraces, water features, soaring staircases, and wooden decking.

The construction required more than 620 tons of steel supported by a burly concrete base to buttress the triangular insulated glass units fashioned from modularized Vitro glass. The open floor plan comprised three spherical units enveloped in Ultra-clear Vitro Starphire low-iron glass, which allows for higher visible light transmission, heightening views from multiple angles. “Iron is what makes glass appear green," said Andre Kenstowicz, Vitro Glass manager on the project. "Low iron Starphire glass eliminates the 'green' hue of traditional clear glass so the only green that you see is from the 300 species of tropical plants inside of the Amazon Spheres.” There are around 40,000 plants in the project.

Like all three domes, the largest is glazed by the contractor Enclos with Vitro’s Solarban Solar Control 60 Low-E coating in double laminate, measuring approximately 90 feet tall and 130 feet wide. All 2,643 panels of glass achieve 73 percent visible light transmittance and a solar heat gain coefficient of 0.40 across the visibly sinuous surface. This film beneath the surface limits the amount of radiation entering and consequently helps the interior to remain a stable, cool temperature.

NBBJ designed this biophilic environment to “inspire creativity and even improve brain function," according to the company’s blog. Luckily the public also has year-round access to the stimulating habitat at the base of the garden in the visitor center. There, in the thick of it, Seattleites can experience biodiversity in the heart of the city.

Architect: NBBJ

Location: Seattle

Structural Engineer: Magnusson Klemencic Associates

Glass Manufacturer: Vitro Architectural Glass

Glass Fabricator:  Northwestern Industries, Inc.

Glazing Contractor: Enclos

Placeholder Alt Text

Amazon, Starbucks, and other Seattle corporations claw back affordable housing tax

After the passage of a tax on mega-companies that seemed like a victory for Seattle’s affordable housing advocates less than a month ago, Amazon, Starbucks, and other Seattle-based businesses have banded together to lobby for its repeal. The strategy seems to have worked, and Seattle’s City Council met today to consider rolling back the tax ahead of a November referendum forced by the business community. Business groups raised over $200,000 after the passage of the so-called “head tax,” which would have billed companies grossing $20 million a year or more $275 per employee (bargained down from $500) for five years, to gather the signatures required for a repeal referendum. Whether the referendum would have been held or not, the pressure generated has caused Mayor Jenny Durkan and the City Council to act. In a statement released yesterday, The Mayor’s office pledged to consider repealing the tax, which originally passed with unanimous City Council support. “It is clear that the ordinance will lead to a prolonged, expensive political fight over the next five months that will do nothing to tackle our urgent housing and homelessness crisis. These challenges can only be addressed together as a city, and as importantly, as a state and a region. “We heard you. This week, the City Council is moving forward with the consideration of legislation to repeal the current tax on large businesses to address the homelessness crisis.” Amazon had originally threatened to halt all expansion in Seattle when the first iteration of the head tax was floated by officials, but backed down and resumed construction on their downtown projects when the measure passed. The tax would have raised $47 million for the construction of 591 units of affordable housing throughout Seattle and services for the homeless. In a late afternoon voting session, it now appears that the head tax has been repealed by a 7 to 2 margin.
Placeholder Alt Text

Soccer stadium and music venues coming to Lincoln Yards development along the Chicago River

A new entertainment complex is coming to a former strip of industrial land along the north branch of the Chicago River. Live Nation has partnered with Sterling Bay to create a year-round entertainment district within a proposed 70-acre north branch development project, Lincoln Yards. This announcement occurs one week after Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts revealed that a United Soccer League team and stadium will be the central focus of the entertainment complex, the Chicago Tribune reported.   The complex delivers three to five entertainment venues along with a reported 20,000-capacity soccer stadium. Each of the smaller venues will range from 100 to 800 seats. Beverly Hills, California-based Live Nation is on board to book and manage events, as well as fund construction.  Pending city and zoning approval, Sterling Bay plans to begin construction within 18 months. A corporate parent of TicketMaster, Live Nation adds cache to the complex. No other retail tenants or partners have been announced. The complex is proposed on the former site of the A. Finkl & Sons steel plant site, a steel mill that operated along the Chicago River in Lincoln Park for 112 years before being demolished in 2016. Amazon representatives were spotted at the site last fall, sparking speculation that the 28-acre tract of land could be proposed for the coveted HQ2. The Lincoln Yards site also includes a former fleet management complex Sterling Bay purchased from the City of Chicago, as well as other smaller pieces of land along the river. Renderings released by Sterling Bay for the entertainment complex reveal a series cantilevered pavilions, along with a sloping, horseshoe shaped soccer stadium. The entertainment complex complements other aspects of the Lincoln Yards development, which will be mixed-use retail, office and residential with an extension to the 606 trail.
Placeholder Alt Text

Over Amazon’s threats, Seattle passes tax on big business to fund affordable housing

The Seattle City Council has unanimously passed a scaled-down version of the tax on mega-companies that caused Amazon to suspend its construction in the city earlier this month. It now seems like Amazon was bluffing when it threatened to pull out if the measure went through, as pre-construction work on the 17-story Block 18 tower is reportedly back on. Seattle is weathering an affordability crisis as rents and homelessness rates continue to rise, and a tax on companies grossing $20 million a year or more was proposed as a way of funding new affordable housing. The proposed tax would have originally hit those larger companies (about three percent of businesses in Seattle) with an annual, $500-a-head charge. After deliberations between the Council, Mayor’s office, and the business community, a leaner, $275-per-employee bill that sunsets in five years was eventually passed. The original measure was expected to bring in around $75 to $86 million a year for the city, which would have built approximately 1,700 affordable units over the next five years; as passed, Seattle will reap $45 to $49 million a year, and only build out 591 units over that same period. Still, even these changes haven’t appeared to sit well with Amazon. Although construction will move forward on Block 18, an office tower in downtown Seattle that could hold 7,000 Amazon employees, Amazon issued a sternly-worded statement after the vote threatening to reduce its footprint in the city. With 45,000 employees currently in Seattle, the tech giant would have ended up paying around $12 million a year. “We are disappointed by today’s City Council decision to introduce a tax on jobs,” Drew Herdener, an Amazon vice-president, told The Guardian. “We remain very apprehensive about the future created by the council’s hostile approach and rhetoric toward larger businesses, which forces us to question our growth here.” Amazon’s statement isn’t just bluster. While the Graphite Design Group–designed Block 18 will rise after all, the company is still debating about whether it will take the 722,000-square-feet of office space it was going to lease in the forthcoming Rainer Square building. As the HQ2 search continues, it remains to be seen whether Seattle’s pushback against Amazon will have an effect on what prospective cities are willing to concede; 40 officials from cities all over the country, including some of those still in the HQ2 running, have signed an open letter throwing their weight behind Seattle in this tax fight.
Placeholder Alt Text

Amazon suspends construction in Seattle over possible tax increases

Amazon has put the kibosh on a one-million-square-foot expansion of its Seattle headquarters pending a City Hall vote to raise taxes on the company.  The proposal would tax companies with $20 million or more in annual gross revenue, to the tune of about $500 per employee, with the proceeds going towards affordable housing in the city. Amazon was slated to begin construction on the 17-story Block 18 tower in downtown Seattle and occupy 722,000 square feet of office space it had leased at a 58-story Rainer Square building currently under construction. While the Graphite Design Group–designed Block 18 wasn’t slated to begin construction for another month, Amazon has put the project on hold indefinitely. “Our firm was notified late in the day yesterday to pause the project pending the resolution of the head-tax issue that the City Council is currently deliberating,” Graphite Design Group’s Peter Krech told the Seattle Times, “so we are suspending our work immediately on the project based on that direction.” Amazon has long driven growth in Seattle, but critics have charged that the tech giant’s employees have drastically reduced the amount of housing available in the city, driven up costs and increased income inequality. The proposed tax would bring in an estimated $75 million a year for the city, with Amazon paying $20 to $30 million. The funds would go towards building 1,800 affordable units a year. If Amazon is going to truly kill Block 18, Seattle would lose 7,000 to 8,000 potential jobs. It seems that Amazon has soured on its home city, as the company recently announced that it would be adding 1,000 more jobs at its Boston office, 3,000 at its Vancouver, British Columbia, office, and 200 at its Minneapolis offshoot (not to mention the HQ2 search). The 4,500 employees that were previously going to move to the Rainer Square tower offices may also be relocated elsewhere. Seattle’s City Council is set to vote on the measure on May 14. It remains to be seen if Amazon is bluffing or not, and as the Seattle Times noted, residential developers who were counting on an influx of new Amazon employees may have to scale back their ambitions as well.
Placeholder Alt Text

Amazon’s Seattle spheres are set for public opening

Amazon’s triple-domed Spheres in downtown Seattle will be partially open to the public beginning January 30th. The enormous glass bubbles, designed by NBBJ as part of Amazon’s sprawling urban campus, were first approved in 2013. The glass and steel domes vary in size, with the largest bubble spanning 130 feet in diameter and topping out at 95 feet tall. All three Buckminster Fuller-emulating domes are linked, forming a biomorphic greenhouse with 65,000 square feet of workspace and conference areas for Amazon employees. Instead of aping its namesake, the Amazon Spheres have selected plants from a wide variety of sources. The Seattle Times recently toured the Spheres, and gave a rundown of the gardens and 400 plant varieties, within. The garden in the Seventh Avenue sphere holds New World plants mainly from Central and South America, though a 40-year-old Port Jackson fig tree, so large that it had to be craned in, is clearly the centerpiece. An Old World garden grows inside of the Sixth Avenue sphere, where guests and employees will see plants from Africa and Southeast Asia, alongside an entrance-adjacent, 60-foot-tall living wall, and tank filled with aquatic plants and animals from the Amazon. Amazon’s horticulturists have curated a range of plants that could survive alongside the Spheres’ human occupants comfortably. During the day, the spheres will be kept at 72 degrees and 60 percent humidity, which will drop to 55 degrees and 85 percent humidity at night. All of the plants were grown to maturation in a 40,000-square-foot greenhouse offsite and transplanted, beginning on May 1st of last year. Designing offices and meeting spaces alongside climate controls for hundreds of different plant species was no easy task for NBBJ. Fake logs and stumps circulate air from piping within, while the Spheres are warmed in part by excess heat generated from a data center nearby. More details on which companies will be filling the two public retail spaces at ground level are forthcoming. (This is not the first time NBBJ has ventured into novelty office design). Members of the general public can place a reservation to visit the Spheres here, though be warned; the Seattle Times is reporting that 20,000 guests already have the tour booked solidly through April.
Placeholder Alt Text

In Amazon’s new store, the cameras are the cashiers

Amazon opened the doors of its “store of the future” to the public today. The 1,800-square-foot Amazon Go is making waves over its cashier-less checkout system. The shop, first announced in late 2016 and located in downtown Seattle, uses a vast array of ceiling-mounted cameras to charge shoppers for the items they walk out with, a system that could transform the future of retail. The tech giant has attempted to break into the physical retail world before, to mixed results. But after acquiring Whole Foods in June of last year, Amazon now wields considerable leverage with which to reshape real-world retail, and test-runs of new technology could be a sign of things to come. The inaugural Amazon Go store is even designed like a Whole Foods, save for the rows of turnstiles blocking the entrance and the lack of cashiers. Customers swipe their phone and have to connect to their Amazon account in order to enter, and as they shop, hundreds of overhead cameras track what’s taken from the shelves, with no need to microchip the products. Visitors then have their Amazon accounts charged after leaving, although there are still some live humans on hand to guard the alcohol and restock the shelves. This approach is supposed to cut out the lines, but the system is less than perfect. Linking the shopping to Amazon accounts also places the mini-mart squarely in the boutique market, since Amazon has precluded the use of cash and food stamps. While Amazon has promised that it has no plans to replace any of the staff in Whole Foods stores, Amazon Go is stocked with the grocery chain’s signature 365 Everyday brand and their newly unveiled meal kits. The implication, that Amazon could replace the retail workers it now employs, isn’t without merit. Amazon has already reconfigured the urban fabric outside of its largest markets through the construction of enormous, automated distribution centers, and extending the practices honed in their warehouses into stores would be a logical next step. Amazon has already thrown brick-and-mortar stores into disarray and forced a re-evaluation of physical retail space once, and it may be poised to do it again. Below is a video explanation from Amazon of how the store works.