Willets Point Businesses Protest Impending Eviction

By Katie Honan on July 18, 2013 9:01am 

 Workers from Willets Point and the Sunrise Corporation, including Marco Neira in the white t-shirt, protest the redevlopment of the area.
Workers from Willets Point and the Sunrise Corporation, including Marco Neira in the white t-shirt, protest the redevlopment of the area.
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DNAinfo/Katie Honan

WILLETS POINT — Auto body shop owners in the neighborhood, which is slated for redevelopment,  protested their impending eviction from the area to make way for a massive residential and office complex.

In May, Willets Point business owners in Phase 1 of the redevelopment plan received a letter from the city's Economic Development Corporation saying they would get eviction notices on or around July 15 and would have to be out by September.

Several businesses said they have received eviction notices but the city's Department of Housing Preservation & Developement, which issues the notices, said they haven't sent them out.

Business owners have banded together to push for a relocation of all the shops, and say they've even suggested locations to the city.

Marco Neira, from the Sunrise Cooperative, a for-profit group jointly controlled by 52 auto body businesses in Willets Point, says the city doesn't care what happens to them.

"They take our business and our land, and give it to the rich people?," he said. "If we have to leave, where are we going to go?"

The Sunrise Cooperative is in favor of a large-scale relocation that involves all the businesses, similar to the relocation of the Fulton Fish Market in 2005.

In 2012, the group put together a business plan that explained how they would finance and develop a vacant lot for relocation.

Neira said they'd even found possible land in Maspeth and Long Island City, but the city hasn't discussed the group relocation.

"Let him know Mr. Bloomberg, they have to give us a place to be relocated, if not we're not going to leave here," Niera said.

The EDC has offered services like job placement and business courses through the Willets Point Worker Assistance Program.

The EDC said more than 600 workers have registered with the program, and 470 have taken advantage of the services offered to date.

A spokesman for the EDC said the city has met several times with the Sunrise Cooperative, visiting potential locations and helping engage with potential landlords.

They are also working with Cornerstone to assist the businesses, helping assess their business needs and finding places for relocation, they said.

A lawyer for the Urban Justice Center, who's worked with the Willets Point owners, though, said the city hasn't moved forward with any of the plans for group relocation they've discussed with the cooperative.

"The've been helping with us in trying to find alternate sites, but they're not moving ahead with the proposal for them to move together," said Harvey Epstein.

"It's an important industry in New York City and we're trying to save it."

The city's grand plans for the area dubbed the Iron Triangle for were revealed in June of 2012. The plan, which includes a movie theater, 2,500 residential units, 500,000 square feet of office space, hotel rooms and more than five acres of public space.

The project won't come cheap: It's estimated it will require $3 billion in private and investment and $100 million in public dollars to clean up the site.

The redevelopment, which is led by the city, is scheduled to begin next year.

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