PREDICTIONS, RUMORS, THOUGHTS ON AMAZON HQ2 IN LIC

Two weeks ago I drafted a post on local property values in response to the headlines announcing LIC’s first billion dollar condo building. It questioned the viability of attaining $1 bil in an increasingly softening market. The Amazon HQ2 announcement blew that thesis out of the water. It’s a game-changer so back to the drawing board I went with some new real estate predictions, and while I was at it some other thoughts I had on HQ2 as well as some rumors.

Upon confirmation, raw land prices and development sites are immediately worth 25-75%1 more. Because all other costs (labor, materials, financing, etc.) are fixed, this is the only variable that moves so the total project only increases by 5-15%. This is obviously a huge boon for current land-owners.
Retail – 3+ yrs away before any impact on revenues for local retailers but all retail rent rollovers will incorporate an Amazon Premium, especially those near where HQ2 is actually located
Rental Building Owners – the announcement fully counters the current softness as far as refinancing goes. Owners can now do so using peak 2016-17 pricing
Renters – zero effect for the next 2-3 years. If softness persists, as it should with all the supply, concessions will increase but posted rent levels will stay flat. Then when Amazon starts moving in the concessions will disappear.
Homeowners – the effects will not be so immediate, but prices in LIC should firm 5-10% over the next 12 months. Going forward they will do 2-4% a year better than other NYC neighborhoods for the next five years.

For those looking to make a personal investment, if HQ2 is placed in Court Square or Queens Plaza, I believe the highest expected return going forward will be in Astoria and Sunnyside. It will be slightly less so in Greenpoint (but all those new developments just got a big lift), unless HQ2 is placed in Hunters Point. IF YOU WANT TO SCORE A BARGAIN START LOOKING NOW, and be ready to place a bid once confirmation comes.

As for where HQ2 will be located, that’s complete speculation at this point. One name thrown out for a turnkey foothold, is the Citi building where Citicorp’s departure in 2020 will open up one million square feet.

Or, if Amazon wanted to build a quasi-campus from the ground up, there are numerous parcels in Court Square/Queens Plaza that could be rezoned/repositioned and the multiple subway lines that merge there make it a logical choice.

Finally, there is a rumor that the Plaxall property on the waterfront would be a very attractive option, which when grouped with Water’s Edge and Vernon Swamp is where Amazon could build its own version of Hudson Yards on a highly visible (and large) piece of land…

Thoughts – now that the bake-off is seemingly over, I find it interesting that Amazon decided to completely discard the lower cost-of-living factor in choosing DC and NYC. While some think the whole exercise was a sham and the fix was in, I believe Amazon came to the conclusion they needed world class talent to grow going forward. For all that can be said about cities like Dallas and Atlanta, when you wake up in the morning you’re still in Dallas or Atlanta, not NYC.

The details about the deal the city/state struck with Amazon have yet to be revealed, and until they are I hesitate to give the company’s arrival my endorsement – this could be another instance of Foxconn in Wisconsin whereby the state basically paid for the factory and subsidized the workers to have it located there 2. Nevertheless this decision has the chance to be very favorable for both the company and Long Island City, not to mention NYC.

Yes, there will be collateral damage as it won’t be as affordable as before and there will be some really big winners who just won the lottery (the aforementioned land owners). As for crowding – particularly in the subways, an issue that I have been highly critical about, by placing the workers in LIC as opposed to Manhattan, it will fill the empty subway cars deadheading back to Flushing in the morning and Hudson Yards in the evening. Or better yet, commuters can easily walk or bike to work.

If the deal is struck and it’s reasonable, it will cement Long Island City’s standing as the best place to live (and work) in the best city in the world. And I guess that’s what Amazon thought too.

  1. completely back of the envelope so went with huge range, just wanted to emphasize who had the most to gain []
  2. or in LIC’s case guaranteed Sunnyside Yards be decked over or other egregious zoning upsizing []
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