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Ferreras brings city, Willets Pt. tenants to meet

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Willets Point tenants had a rare opportunity last week to meet with city officials and hash out the details of their leases, address eviction notices some had received and ask any other questions about their status in the 62-acre area, which the city plans to transform into a $3 billion city development project.

About a dozen tenants first met as a group Dec. 21 with city Economic Development Corp. Assistant Vice President Andrew Barnes and city Department of Housing Preservation and Development lawyers and officials to discuss their concerns and questions. Then each met with the officials for one-on-one discussions.

The meetings, spearheaded and organized by Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst), were held to open a dialogue between the city and Iron Triangle tenants that will continue as the businesses make decisions about their future.

“Some of them had questions about their leases, about their payments, some of them had questions about their future, where do they stand,” said Yoselin Genao, chief of staff for Ferreras. “There’s many questions about the tenants. Where do they stand? .... Who do they need to report to? Is it the HPD? And also it was an opportunity to meet one-on-one and receive individual attention to their particular needs.”

The tenants who attended the meetings are business owners renting from property owners who have one of a number of agreements with the city. Some of the property owners, who lease their buildings to the tenants, hold multi-year leases on the property from the city; some want to extend or have extended one-year leases which lapsed earlier this year; and some want to sell their property to the city and be relocated.

HPD spokeswoman Catie Marshall said via e-mail that the meetings addressed key issues related to the tenants’ statuses.

“We found the meeting to be very useful and believe that it went a long way toward correcting some misinformation and eliminating confusion,” Marshall said. “We are grateful to Council Member Ferreras for facilitating the gathering and are hopeful that moving forward our lines of communication will remain open and clear.”

Marco Neira, president of Willets Point Community of Defense, a tenant advocacy group, agreed with Marshall’s assessment.

“Everybody was happy with the meetings and the city was happy, too, with the relationship with the tenants,” Neira said. “After these meetings they can sleep better.”

As the city acquired Willets Point properties in recent years, it transferred the leases to HPD to manage until the area’s redevelopment moves forward, a source familiar with the negotiations said. Out of 100 leases the city manages at Willets Point, only two commercial property owners who negotiated sales with the city for their property then executed “lease-back” agreements to allow them to stay on the property as long as they continue to pay rent to the city, the source said.

As a term of the deal, the property owners voluntarily waived relocation benefits that other Willets property-owners will receive, the source said.

Two or more tenants received 30-day eviction notices in October. The tenants have leases that have expired but have not contacted the city to renegotiate a new lease, issues which were ostensibly addressed during last week’s meetings.

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

Updated 10:28 am, October 12, 2011
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