Willets Point business owners scrambled to relocate as another deadline approached this week.
Jan. 31 marked the last day businesses situated in Phase 1 of the redevelopment could find another home and still receive a payment from the city worth six months’ rent. If business owners left before Nov. 30, they were offered a payment worth 12 months’ rent.
Dozens of auto shops that have populated the blighted area for decades are being moved out to make space for the first phase of a $3 billion redevelopment that will transform Willets Point into residential, retail and commercial space.
The Sunrise Co-op, a group of more than 40 business owners hoping to relocate together, have closed in on a 140,000-square-foot warehouse in the Bronx, but had not signed a lease as of Wednesday. The co-op hoped to sign the lease on the property Friday, said one of the group’s organizers, Marco Neira.
“We’ve got to do it then,” Neira said. “Then we can negotiate with the city to get more time until we fix up the place.”
The Sunrise Co-op hopes it will be able to negotiate funding from the city for the work that needs to be done on the new space, Neira said.
Business owners who relocate after the deadline will not get the supplemental payment, but will still be eligible for funding from the city to relocate individually as well as in groups.
The city Economic Development Corp. said more than 50 businesses have relocated from the Phase 1 area to a new location or are close to doing so.
“A significant portion of businesses in Willets Point have relocated or are preparing to do so, many with financial and other support from the city,” said Kate Blumm, a spokeswoman for the EDC. “This brings us closer to having a clear path to begin to remediate a century of toxic contamination as a first step towards creating a new neighborhood with commercial, community and housing opportunities for Queens.”
Some business owners in Phase 1 have not found new locations yet, but plan to move on anyway.
Bijy Kumar has owned his auto shop that sells wheels and rims for more than 11 years. He had not found anywhere to put his business, but planned to move on in February.
“I have no plans, but I have to keep looking. I have no place right now,” he said.
Martha Gualotuna, emigrated from Ecuador in 1995. She has owned Emmanuel Body Shop in Willets Point for more than 10 years. She has not found a new location either, but plans to move anyway, lured by the payment the city has offered.
“My brothers are going to pick up her stuff to put it in storage,” her daughter Tana said.
Arturo Olaya, a Willets Point tenant business leader, has vowed to keep fighting against the city, hoping to strike a better deal for business owners. He said the plan to relocate to a new location in the Bronx was not good enough.
“It’s unbelievable. The people don’t want to move over there. It’s so far away,” he said. “Customers are not going to go looking for anybody out there. They’ll have competition with junkers in Hunts Point. How are they going to survive out there?”
There is no set timetable for when the city will break ground on Phase 1, Blumm said, as the site’s developer first has to wait for all of the businesses in the area to move out.
Reach reporter Alex Robinson by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4566.
©2014 Community News Group
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