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Don’t sweep us under rug: Willets tenants

More than 200 business owners sent a message to the city this week: Don’t forget the little guy.

After leading a lengthy fight against the redevelopment of Willets Point, in which they held very little leverage, the more than 200 tenant businesses in the area are now pleading with the city not to be forgotten in its development vision.

The Willets Point Defense Committee President Arturo Olaya sent a letter to City Councilman Hiram Monserrate (D−East Elmhurst) and other city officials this week demanding that a $3 million fund set up to help tenant businesses relocate be extended, calling the current plan woefully inadequate for the bevy of businesses it would need to serve.

The fund would be divided among the businesses based on the square footage they occupy, and the group estimated that the average business in Willets Point would receive $15,000, while many of the smaller shops would only receive $9,000 or less.

Olaya said the funding would be a drop in the bucket toward addressing the costs involved with relocation, such as new rental sites, storage, moving and customization of new spaces.

“Time and again, we’ve heard that the Willets Point redevelopment will be a ‘win’ for everybody,” the letter reads. “We are only asking that the city dedicate the same, reasonable level of concern and financing to our businesses’ relocation and survival, as it has to its ballyhooed redevelopment project.”

The relationship between tenant business owners and Monserrate soured last week after the councilman embraced Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s redevelopment plan for Willets Point the day before the Council voted on the project.

Olaya said Monserrate’s agreement to support the mayor’s project without consulting them was a “slap in the face.”

“He makes a call to us and he put us in the basement,” Olaya said. “He cannot represent the businesses and the workers at Willets Point because he’s making the deal for himself.”

Monserrate rejected the claims, contending that he had been a tireless advocate for the tenant business’ interests.

“Unfortunately, they don’t have an understanding of what occurred here,” Monserrate said. “The reality is the project is very necessary for the borough of Queens.”

Monserrate said the city’s Workforce Retraining Program, real estate assistance provided by Cornerstone Realty, an agreement to offer low−cost loans to the tenant businesses and a $3 million set−aside to help them move to new locations would not have been as robust without his advocacy.

“The city has no legal obligation to do any of this,” he said.

Olaya said the tenant businesses, most of which are auto−related, repaired a truck owned by Monserrate, which also bears his name, at no cost. He said Monserrate donated the truck for the tenant businesses’ campaign against the city, but Olaya painted over the councilman’s name last Thursday.

“He sold us, he sold Willets Point,” Olaya said.

Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e−mail at Sstirling@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 138.

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