“We’ve moved” signs are popping up in Willets Point, as 22 business owners took a payout to relocate by the end of last month, city officials said.
The city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC) in August offered a pooled $3.5 million to auto shop owners in the Phase 1 area of the Willets Point development site who agree to leave the Iron Triangle by the end of January.
Shop owners who relocated by November 30 will be given a payout equal to one year’s rent, while those who leave between December and the end of January will get a payment equal to six months’ rent.
Nine businesses have agreed to vacate by January 31, according to a Megan Montalvo, a spokesperson for Councilmember Julissa Ferreras, who represents the area.
As of the end of last month, 30 have already relocated, signed new leases or are close to doing so, Montalvo said.
About 50 business owners from the Sunrise Co-op, a large group fighting to relocate together, are in talks with the city to move to the Bronx, according to Sunrise leader Sergio Aguirre.
“We are in negotiations,” Aguirre said. “We don’t know when we’re going to finish. Until we have that agreement, we can’t say anything.”
But some have no plans to leave the site, including Yoni Chazbani, who owns ACDC Scrap Metal on Willets Point Boulevard.
“If they were to give me 12 times the monthly rent, I wouldn’t be able to move a few cars out of here. That’s for sure,” he said. “Honestly, I hope I could stay here for another 20 years. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
Chazbani said customers are pouring in daily, hoping the auto shops will stay put.
“They look at the place and they say, ‘I can’t believe you guys are moving. I’m going to need you. I’m going to need to fix my car for a good price,’” he said. “Everywhere, out of this yard, prices are more expensive. This does everyone good. It benefits everybody but the city.”
Businesses have long said they can only survive if they are moved as a whole and can continue as a one-stop shop for motorists.
“I already invested a lot of money in my business, but to the city it’s garbage,” said Arturo Olaya, owner of Arthur’s Upholstery on 36th Avenue and president of the Willets Point Defense Committee for Small Businesses and Workers.
The city has been urging shops to leave since February, in order to make way for a $3 billion project to redevelop Willets Point. But, the entire Phase 1 area must first be vacated before environmental remediation can begin.
Plans for the larger project include cleaning up 23 acres of contaminated land and eventually constructing housing units and a mega mall near Citi Field.
The first-come, first-served payouts were added onto the $9 million in relocation aid already offered.
With additional reporting by Liam La Guerre