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Willets Point auto shop’s new South Bronx site questioned

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Willets Point United, a group representing business and land owners in the blighted area, is raising questions about the viability of the new space in the South Bronx where the Sunrise Cooperative auto shop group is moving.

The group said it would like to see the successful relocation of businesses like Sunrise Coop that are in the first phase of the $3 billion Willets Point Development Plan, but it questions the appropriateness of the South Bronx site.

Gerald Antonacci, WPU’s president, said he is concerned the group will not be able to afford the space and that people will not visit the shops in the 84,000-square-foot Bronx space at 1080 Leggett Ave. in Hunts Point.

He also said Queens-based workers would incur an additional daily bridge toll of $15, which work out to about $360 a month.

“You’re putting all these people in a factory,” Antonacci said. “Are people going to go there? You dump these people in the middle of nowhere.”

Sunrise Coop received a nearly $5.8 million settlement from the city to relocate and complete renovations at its South Bronx space, ending the group’s lawsuit against the city. It is required to leave Willets Point by June 1.

The city Economic Development Corporation will pay $4.8 million and the Queens Development Group, the developers for the $3 billion Willets Point Development Plan, will pay $960,000. Sunrise Coop will contribute $143,000.

The group is currently signing a contract with the construction company and plans to save some of the settlement funds to pay rent during the construction process, which is expected to take roughly nine months.

WPU congratulated Sunrise Coop on its settlement but said it does not help automotive businesses that did not join Sunrise Coop because they could not afford to pay the dues or were excluded for other reasons.

Marco Neira, Sunrise Coop’s president, said the group decided to relocate to the South Bronx because they could not find any sites in Queens.

He said people will continue to come to the auto shops because they save anywhere from $300 to $400 on a job and the shops address all car-related issues.

“We’re not going to lose customers, we are going to increase customers,” Neira said. “People from the Bronx and other places, they’re coming to our place.”

He rejected concerns that Queens-based workers would take on an additional toll cost, saying that they can take the 59th Street Bridge to avoid paying a toll.

He also noted that customers from Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Massachusetts will no longer have to pay a toll to come to the shops and that they find Sunrise Coop’s shops prices to be more affordable than those in their own states.

“I ask them why they come from Pennsylvania and they said because in Pennsylvania, the job costs $400 more than here, so that’s why they trip all the way down to Willets Point,” he said.

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz said he would work with the group to facilitate their move to the area.

“We understand the position that they are in and will work with them to make their transition as easy as possible,” Diaz said in a statement. “It’s not easy for any business to make the cross-borough move they are about to make, and we will do our best to integrate them with other members of the business community.”

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

Updated 12:32 am, July 10, 2018
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