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Month From GWB Terminal Opening Date, Fraction of Tenants Have Stores Ready

 The long-awaited George Washington Bridge Terminal near 179th Street and Fort Washington Avenue is slated to open in April without the small businesses.
The long-awaited George Washington Bridge Terminal near 179th Street and Fort Washington Avenue is slated to open in April without the small businesses.
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DNAinfo/Carolina Pichardo

WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — Less than a month remains before the long-delayed George Washington Bridge Terminal Market is finally slated to open — but 90 percent of the small business tenants slated to open inside will not have even been allowed to start construction by the time the terminal opens for business, DNAinfo New York has learned.

George Washington Bridge Redevelopment Venture LLC — a private development company overseeing the long-delayed redevelopment of the half-century-old terminal in conjunction with the Port Authority — has a labor clause that prohibits union construction workers who are building the terminal from having to work alongside the non-union laborers being employed by some of the small businesses, according to a source familiar with the project.

“The Port Authority contract requires the [developer] and contractor to ensure labor harmony on the site,” the source said. 

As a result, the nearly two dozen small business tenants who have signed leases inside the building are banned from starting construction on their storefronts until after the union workers have finished building the terminal — a wrinkle the tenants said developers didn't announce until long after they signed their leases.

Of the 24 local tenants that signed leases with the GWB Terminal, only Marshalls and Spectrum have built out their stores, with GAP and Blink Fitness expected to begin construction next month, officials said.

The remaining stores slated to open — but who have not started construction — are Baked & Bowled, Café Buunni, Citibank, Credit City, Dr. Shine, Fine Fare, First Financial, Gateway News, Greg Moda, GWB Juice Bar, Hudson Local Eatery, Joyeria Pepe, Lulu Bakery, Nail Lounge, Pick & Eat, PNC, Reyes Optical, Ticketro, VistaCare and VS Berry Frozen Yogurt, officials said.

Javier Gomez, a spokesman for the developers, confirmed that the only part of the terminal that will open in April — after nearly nine years of stop-and-starts — is the “bus station and common area component of the project.”

“Completion of the retail component is expected to take place during the following months,” Gomez said.

Gomez said the developer and Port Authority “are not directly involved in the tenants’ build-out of their retail spaces within the Mercado,” and said “each retail tenant is responsible for having its space fitted out in accordance with its lease and in compliance with applicable laws and regulations.”

Gomez added that the developer hired a “coordinating project manager architect” to work with the tenants and help them through the tenant alteration process and obtain all necessary permits — but wouldn't say who that manager is or why the small business owners say they’ve received no word from the developer since late last year, when they invited them to visit the site as it neared completion.

Small business owners said the labor clause was never included in their lease, which they signed years ago, and that the first mention of it arose several months ago during conversations with the developers.

The terminal, which was slated to be completed in mid-2015, and then pushed back to end of 2016, is said to finally be completed in April 2017.

Luis Perez, who signed a lease in fall 2014 to open a juice bar and pastry shop inside the terminal, said the developer never mentioned anything about a union labor clause until recently — and never in writing.

“If they wouldn’t have promised us so much, then we wouldn’t have signed up,” Perez said, adding that the Port Authority and the developer should have been honest with what the work entailed.

Perez said the developers told the small businesses they’ll be able to start construction and building as soon as the union-labor are out of the premises, but haven’t been provided a timeline or more details as to what that means for their opening date.

“At this point, we want results,” Perez said. “There are a couple of tenants who want to back out, and they’re not returning our money back — or telling us what’s next.”

"We all feel like we're being bullied," Perez said.