Willets Pt shops eye new home

Photo by Christina Santucci
By Alex Robinson

A group of Willets Point business owners, hoping to relocate together, have settled on a new home in the Bronx.

The Sunrise Co-op, a nonprofit controlled by more than 50 Willets Point business owners, has decided to move to a 140,000-square-foot facility in Hunts Point, said Marco Neira, one of the group’s organizers.

“It’s better than nothing,” Neira said. “What we need is a bigger place and we need a place in Queens, but right now there isn’t something big enough in Queens that is built.”

The business owners are moving to make space for the first phase of a $3 billion redevelopment of the blighted area into residential, retail and commercial space.

The city gave business owners, whose shops sit on land where the first phase of the project will occur, until Jan. 31 to leave. If they leave by the deadline, they will receive a payment worth six months’ rent. The businesses that left before the end of November received a payout from the city worth a full year’s rent.

“We have got to do something to get the benefits the city is offering people before they kick everyone out in court,” Neira said.

At least 40 business owners will move their shops to the new Hunts Point location, Neira said.

The new location could potentially accommodate more than 100 shops, but the co-op is only focusing on transferring those in Phase 1 for now.

“We are working in order to move as many people as we can,” Neira said. “We understand the city is putting pressure on everyone to move.”

The co-op is closing in on signing a lease for the new space and plans to meet with an architect to divide the space up before businesses can start moving in.

Once the lease is signed, Neira said he hopes he will be able to negotiate with the city to get business owners more time to relocate to the new facility.

The group looked at a number of other properties throughout the city, including sites in Brooklyn and Maspeth, before deciding the space in Hunts Point was the best option.

Neira will not be moving to the new facility himself yet as his business, the Master Express Deli and Restaurant, lies in the third phase of the development, which is years away from being built.

A spokeswoman for the city Economic Development Corp. said more than 50 businesses have either relocated, signed a lease in a new location or are close to doing so.

Neira said if business is good at the new location, the Willets Point business owners could end up staying there permanently, but he would ideally like to be all together in a Queens location.

The redevelopment of Willets Point has been controversial since its beginning as the city plans to use eminent domain to seize the land, which was occupied by throngs of auto body shops for decades.

The Queens Borough Board voted to approve the sale of the 23-acre property where the first phase will be built to developers Related Cos. and Sterling Equities for $1 in November.

Reach reporter Alex Robinson by e-mail at arobinson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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