Willets Point business owners sign lease to move to the Bronx

By Alex Robinson

A group of more than 40 Willets Point business owners have found a new home in the Bronx.

The Sunrise Co-op signed a lease Friday on a 84,000-square-foot space in Hunts Point, at 1080 Leggett Ave.

Many of the group’s members have been without properties to conduct their business since the end of January when they accepted deals worth six months’ rent from the city to vacate their businesses. Some accepted payments worth 12 months’ rent to leave the Iron Triangle by the end of November.

Dozens of auto repair shops and junk yards that have populated the area for decades have been pushed out to make room for the first phase of a $3 billion redevelopment of the blighted area into a new neighborhood with a megamall.

Many of the business owners have been out on the street fixing cars, trying to make a living, as they wait to move into the new location, said Marco Neira, one of the group’s organizers.

“They’re on the streets trying to survive. Everybody has a family so they have to create an income,” he said. “With this, we can have the hope and in two or three months we can start doing business again.”

The group’s organizers have been closing in on signing a lease on the property for a couple months after negotiations with the landlord to fix the facility’s bathrooms slowed down the process.

The Sunrise Co-op will, however, have to wait a little longer before its members can start moving in.

The new space, which is part of a 144,000-square-foot warehouse, now needs to be divided so that there are designated areas for each business. Neira said construction to build all the necessary partitions may take up to a few months.

The group will be eligible to receive $2 million in relocation funds from the city’s Economic Development Corporation for the move, which organizers said they will use on a security deposit and rent.

The Sunrise Co-op also hopes to get additional funds through a lawsuit it filed Feb. 4 against the city and developers, Sterling Equities and Related Co., challenging the whole $3 billion development and contending the city’s relocation effort was ineffective. It also argued the project’s proposed megamall would need approval by the state Legislature because it was built on land designated as parkland and that the developers never should have been awarded $42.6 million in tax incentives by the city.

The lawsuit is still pending, but the two sides may be close to a settlement, said Ted De Barbieri, a lawyer with Urban Justice who is representing the group.

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

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