Between 40 and 60 auto body and repair shops have signed a lease to relocate from Willets Point in Queens, NY, to Hunts Point in the Bronx, NY. The move furthers the city’s $3 billion Willets Point Redevelopment plan, which includes 2,500 units of housing (35 percent designated affordable) and a giant mall. About two thirds of its roughly 130 businesses have already received benefits to relocate.
The businesses call themselves the Sunrise Cooperative and will be heading to a Leggett Avenue warehouse in the Bronx. They are the largest such group to agree to vacate Willets Point and will be eligible for $2 million of the $3 million that the city has set aside to help with relocation.
The city hopes to have the area mostly vacated by spring, but the body shops worry that they will struggle in new locations, unable to bring their client base with them, and also complain that the city has not been doing a good enough job of helping them to find suitable new places to move. Meanwhile, many of the auto body shop owners are unhappy about the $43 million in tax breaks that developers are getting to transform the area, and a group is still suing the city claiming that the development is being built illegally on parkland.
The deal, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, will relocate between 47 and 60 businesses to the 150,000-square-foot warehouse at 1080 Leggett Avenue, near the Bruckner Expressway, according to Marco Neira, an organizer for the Sunrise Cooperative.
“We already have the place in the Bronx,” he said.
The cooperative first eyed the location in December 2013, and organizer Sergio Aguirre said at the time that the light-filled warehouse was “the perfect place for shops.”
Construction managers will head to the warehouse to give an estimate on the scope and cost to renovate the space, Neira said.
The city is footing the bill for the security deposit and moving costs, and will pay for the first two years of the lease, Neira said.
Kate Blumm, a spokeswoman for the Economic Development Corporation, said the co-op is eligible for up to $2 million to put towards relocation, and each individual business is also eligible for additional funds.
The move is also pivotal in keeping hundreds of jobs in New York City, she said.
“The Sunrise Cooperative’s move to the Hunts Point neighborhood in the Bronx ensures that hundreds of jobs will be retained and that dozens of businesses will continue to operate and succeed in New York City,” Blumm said.
“We congratulate the Sunrise Cooperative on its diligence to successfully secure space at a new location that will help it thrive for years to come.”
The plan to turn the heavily-polluted Iron Triangle from a stretch of auto body repair shops into a retail and residential destination, which drew waves of protest from business owners, was first proposed in 2008.
The latest version of the plan, which requires the shops to vacate the neighborhood, will redevelop the area in phases, and was approved by the City Council in October 2013.
Many of the businesses pushed group relocation, saying that their success was contingent on sticking together and recreating an environment similar to that of Willets Point, where drivers could pick from a variety of repair options.
Neira said he’s excited for the move, and expects to get things going in the next few months.
“Everybody feels happy because at least we got some place to move up,” he said.
The city, which made a deal with the developers to build on the parkland, says it is legal under an agreement signed with the Mets in 1961. Citi Field sits within the park, as did its predecessor, Shea Stadium.
The Willets Point redevelopment plan was hatched by the Bloomberg administration and, after being modified in several respects, was approved by the last Queens borough president Helen Marshall and the City Council in 2013. It involves removing the businesses that operate in the Iron Triangle, cleaning the area of contaminants, and building the mall, which will be 1.4 million square feet in size, along with a hotel, restaurants, other retail space, offices, and new ramps on and off of the Van Wyck Expressway, over a period of several years.