Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

A wave of protests and public backlash saw Amazon unexpectedly retreat from its plans to construct 'HQ2' in Queens — but Cornell President Martha Pollack, along with 80 other New York City leaders, penned an open letter addressed to Jeff Bezos in a last ditch bid to woo back the corporate behemoth.

March 3, 2019

After Amazon’s Exit From NYC, President Pollack Signs Letter Urging Jeff Bezos to Reconsider

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“Dear Mr. Bezos,” began an open letter signed by President Martha Pollack imploring CEO Jeff Bezos to reconsider Queens, New York for the site of Amazon’s second headquarters.

The letter — full of implorations that call New York City “dynamic” and “diverse” — is signed by around 80 business, government and local leaders. Pollack is one of a handful of signatories hailing from higher education, including a dean of Columbia University, the president of New York University and the president of LaGuardia College.

Occupying a full-page advertisement in the main section of The New York Times, the authors claimed that a “clear majority” of New Yorkers supported the tech giant’s once-prospective home in Long Island City in Queens. The ad was paid for by the Partnership for New York City, a select group of the “city’s business leadership and its largest private sector employers,” according to its site. 

Online book-buying site gone big, Amazon announced on Nov. 13 that it had chosen New York City to house its second headquarters a five-minute ferry ride away from the Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island.

“Although I have no insights into the Amazon board, it seems like it’s very likely that Cornell Tech is one of the reasons that [New York City] is such an attractive site,” President Martha E. Pollack told The Sun the day after the company’s announcement.

Cornell Tech’s Roosevelt Island campus is located less than 2,000 feet from the ditched headquarters site in Long Island City. Amazon’s initial announcement selecting Long Island City raised concerns of potential gentrification, The New York Times reported.

The founding dean and vice provost of Cornell Tech, Daniel Huttenlocher, sits on Amazon’s board of directors, though Huttenlocher recused himself from Amazon’s headquarters search, according to Pollack. Huttenlocher will  split from Cornell Tech for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s new College of Computing in August, The Sun previously reported.

“We know the public debate that followed the announcement of the Long Island City project was rough and not very welcoming. Opinions are strong in New York — sometimes strident,” the letter read. “We consider it part of the New York charm!”

The scratched prospective deal — called “vulture, monopolistic capitalism at its worst” by New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson (D-N.Y.) in a January hearing — sparked the ire of some local protestors and politicians from the moment it was announced.

Other politicians struck a different tune.

Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio would front the dealmaking process, according to the letter, which delegated Cuomo with the task of the “project’s state approval” and de Blasio with  managing  “workforce development, public education and infrastructure investments” so that the project will benefit local residents and businesses.

The University is already familiar with working with Amazon — the two partner in Cornell Tech’s Product Studio, which pairs students with a company to respond to the challenges the company posed with new products or strategies.

When the company announced its reversal, it said in a statement that there were “a number of state and local politicians [who] who made it clear that they oppose our presence and will not work with us.”

Cuomo, according to The New York Times, has made several phone calls to Bezos recently.

Amazon has not made any public announcements regarding the open letter, or any prospective departure from its previous decision.