Willets Point repair shops find a home

By Alex Robinson

A group of more than 40 Willets Point business owners who are relocating to the Bronx together have a few kinks to work out before they can move into their new home.

The Sunrise Co-op signed a lease Friday on an 84,000-square-foot space in Hunts Point, at 1080 Leggett Ave., but will not be able to occupy the new facility for a few months because it needs some work, the group’s organizers said. The new space, part of a 144,000-square-foot warehouse, now must be divided so there are designated areas for each business.

Marco Neira, one of the group’s organizers, said the construction to build all the necessary partitions may take up to a few months. The group’s organizers were scheduled to meet an engineer at the site Tuesday to figure out the details and extent of the work. Their lease is for 10 years with an option for a five-year extension, said Ted De Barbieri, a lawyer with the Urban Justice Center, a legal advocacy group, who is representing the group.

“We definitely want to get customers there once it’s up and operating,” De Barbieri said. “We need to subdivide it further.”

The Sunrise Co-op had been closing in on signing a lease on the property for a couple of months when negotiations with the landlord to fix the bathroom and address several other issues slowed the process down.

Meanwhile, 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 that have populated Willets Point 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 commercial, residential and retail space.

Many of the Sunrise Co-op’s members have been out on the street fixing cars, trying to make a living, as they wait to move into the new location, Neira said.

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

This fund was available for businesses that relocated in groups of five or more.

The group’s members could also receive funds from the city Housing Department for moving expenses on an individual basis.

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 Cos., 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, De Barbieri said.

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

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