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Willets shops look for home

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A $3 billion plan will see Willets Point developed into a new neighborhood with commercial, retail and residential space.
Rendering courtesy EDC
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The City Council approved the original project for the neighborhood in 2008, but the plans for the site changed in 2012 when former Mayor Michael Bloomberg selected developers for the site. The new plans included a megamall and a parking garage. Rendering courtesy EDC
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The first phase of the project cannot begin until the remaining auto shop and junk yard owners move out of the area. Photo by Christina Santucci
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The site’s developers estimate the first phase of the project would create 2,600 permanent retail, entertainment and hospitality jobs. Rendering courtesy EDC
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The neighborhood slated for the massive redevelopment is on the doorstep of Citi Field. Rendering courtesy EDC

The developers of Willets Point are inching toward starting the first phase of their $3 billion redevelopment of the neighborhood into commercial, residential and retail space with a megamall.

Standing in their way are fewer than 30 auto repair shops and junkyards that have yet to leave the area designated for Phase 1.

The city has already lured dozens of shops to close their doors and relocate elsewhere with payouts.

Businesses that left before the end of November were offered a payment worth 12 months’ rent and they received six months’ rent if they left by the end of January.

Many shops took the money with or without having arranged for a new location.

Business owners say it is vital they relocate together as they generate business for each other as a one-stop auto services shopping spot.

The city has contracted Cornerstone Realty Group to help relocate businesses, but the firm has not provided a new location in Queens where the businesses can move together.

A group of around 40 Willets Point business owners, called the Sunrise Co-op, signed a lease on a new 84,000-square-foot space in the South Bronx in March.

The facility, however, might not be ready for months as partitions need to be made inside the building for each shop.

In the meantime, Sunrise Co-op members who have taken buyouts are suffering because they have nowhere to go. Many of them have taken to fixing cars on the streets, said Marco Neira, one of the group’s organizers.

“Everybody is struggling right now,” he said.

Neira said the Bronx facility might not be ready for four to six months.

The group recently sued the city and developers in an attempt to block the entire development. Their lawsuit contends the city’s relocation effort has been ineffective and that the developers never should have been awarded $42.6 million in tax incentives by the city. The city Industrial Development Agency approved the subsidies in December after the developers estimated the development would bring more than $211 million in tax revenue to the city over 25 years and that the first phase of the project would create 2,600 permanent retail, entertainment and hospitality jobs.

The lawsuit argues the developers did not need financial help to finish the project and therefore were not eligible for the subsidies.

The developers are also facing a second lawsuit which challenges the legality of building the megamall on land that is designated as parkland without the permission of the state Legislature. The lawsuit was spearheaded by state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and a coalition of community leaders and park advocates.

After the city clears Willets Point of its remaining businesses, which it expects to do by the end of 2014, developers Related Co. and Sterling Equities will then have to start a remediation process to remove toxins from the ground, according to the city’s Economic Development Corporation. Construction will not be able to start until this process is over.

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

Updated 12:32 am, July 10, 2018
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