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Willets Point auto shop group launch hunger strike to protest pending eviction

By Madina Toure

Sunrise Cooperative, a group of 48 auto shop owners in Willets Point, is holding a hunger strike to protest their scheduled eviction from the neighborhood this Monday as part of an agreement with the city Economic Development Corporation.

In March, the group received a nearly $5.8 million settlement from the city for fire safety, sewage facilities, office space and equipment at its new 84,000-square-foot space at 1080 Leggett Ave. in the Hunts Point section of the South Bronx.

The agreement specified that the EDC would pay $4.8 million and the Queens Development Group, the site developers, would provide $960,000. The Sunrise Co-op was expected to contribute $143,000 and the group would have to leave the site by June 1.

But the Sunrise part of the equation has not been fulfilled, the head of the group said.

Marco Neira, Sunrise Coop’s president, along with about 10 auto shop owners, have been participating in a hunger strike at J.A.C. Global Corporation at 126-15 37th Ave. as of 11:30 a.m. Monday.

Neira said 17 auto repair shops were supposed to have been fully constructed at the Bronx space by June 1, but that construction has not started.

Sunrise said construction has been what it called “suspiciously delayed” by the city Department of Buildings, which means that the EDC would evict all the auto repair shops in Willets Point.

Neira said the DOB has delayed the construction process because the Bronx building has a violation and does not have the correct certificate of occupancy.

A DOB spokesman said the Sunrise group has not filed an application to obtain a construction permit that would allow the certificate of occupancy to be amended.

“At present, Sunrise Cooperative has not taken several steps necessary to move forward at the new site, including filing the necessary application for permits, which is regrettable,” the spokesman said in an email.

The goal of the hunger strike is to send a message to Mayor Bill de Blasio and the EDC, Neira said.

“If we don’t move today, we’re going to lose the agreement,” he said.

He also said they are looking for a response from City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst), who worked with the group to bring about the March agreement.

After the agreement was signed, the EDC deposited $2,625,000 into the escrow account of the Urban Justice Center, the group’s lawyer.

If the group moved out of Willets Point June 1, Neira said the city would deposit the remaining $2,625,000 and a loan of $550,000 to cover the group’s monthly rent at the Bronx space, about $78,000 a month.

As part of the agreement, Neira said the group was expected to show the city that it had $50,000 out of a total of $200,000 in its savings account and nine months from now, show the remaining $150,000.

But the group does not have the $50,000 to show the city and the space is not ready for them to move into, so they have nowhere to go, Neira explained.

The $3 billion Willets Point Development Plan, which increased from 62 acres to 108.9 acres, includes a megamall that would be built on parkland, a hotel, mixed-income housing, community facilities and a convention center.

The current plan is centered on the first phase of Willets Point, which covers 23 acres of the 62-acre site. The remaining 39 acres will be addressed in the future.

Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtoure@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.

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