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Thursday, 19 December 2013 18:20

Willets Point, NY, Shop Owners Face First Relocation Deadline

The developers of a mega-mall slated to rise on the parking lot at Citi Field are seeking almost $43 million in tax breaks, but opponents of the project — including many auto body shops in the area — argue they should get no breaks at all. “This whole thing has been a disaster from beginning to end,” said state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside.) “How do you justify (giving) tens of millions of taxpayer money when you’re selling the property to the developers for a dollar?”

 

More than 50 of the auto body shops in Willets Point are now in talks to move near the Hunts Point section of the Bronx. The city has set aside $15.5 million to help them relocate. More than 30 have either relocated, signed a lease or are close to doing so, according to the city Economic Development Corp.

“These provisions are a small part of the overall $3 billion private investment QDG is making in Willets Point,” Queens Development Group spokesman Phil Singer said in a statement. It “will reverse decades of contamination and create thousands of new jobs, affordable housing, retail and open space.”

But Arturo Olaya, president of the Willets Point Defense Committee of Small Businesses and Workers, said the city must do more to help the merchants. Olaya has appealed to the city to provide business owners with a six-month extension to relocate.

“They’re displacing us to give the land to the billionaires,” said Olaya, who has owned Arthur’s Auto Trim Shop at Willets Point for 19 years. “This is a disgrace.”

The city offered a payment of 12 months rent to any business owners who relocated off city-owned land in Willets Point by Nov. 30. The City Council passed a $3 billion plan in October that would see the Iron Triangle area, occupied for years by small repair shops and some manufacturing businesses, redeveloped into a commercial, retail and residential site. Some business owners took the relocation deal and moved on with or without a new location. Business owners who moved out of the Iron Triangle were eligible for one year’s rent in their new locations, if they left before Nov. 30. They can still get six months’ rent if they move before Jan. 31.

Johnny Yaqubi owned Johnny’s Auto Body and Repair Shop for 10 years before he accepted an offer to relocate. “What choice do I have?” said Yaqubi.

But he did not have a new location yet when the city came to take the keys to his business. The city will pay him $14,000, which was the equivalent cost of 12 months rent for Yaqubi.

“That’s what they said, but I have not gotten paid yet,” he said.

Yaqubi has not found a new location for his business and was not sure where he would relocate.

The city also evicted several businesses as the deadline loomed.

Blas Olivares owned his auto body repair shop for 20 years before the city forced him to vacate his store Friday. Olivares claimed he recently had a meeting with a city lawyer in which he was told he could stay until Dec. 31.

“I’ll try to go to another place, but we don’t have any place to take the business,” he said.

Olivares said he would put his belongings in storage for now until he figures out a new location.

A group of 52 business owners, represented by an organization called the Sunrise Cooperative, are closing in on a deal with the city to relocate together.

The group is in negotiations with a large facility in Hunts Point, and is also looking at locations in Astoria, Maspeth and Brooklyn.

“Everyone said you won’t get anything from the city,” said Sergio Aguirre, an organizer for the group. “We know this isn’t the best agreement with the city, but it’s something. It was this or nothing.”

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