Auto shops near arrival date in Hunts Point

45 parts and repair businesses eye move to Leggett Street within months

After more than a year of delays, renovations have begun on a Leggett Ave. warehouse where 45 controversial new auto repair shops are scheduled to move in before the end of the year.

The formerly Queens-based businesses are a step closer to occupying the industrially zoned corner of Hunts Point, after a series of bureaucratic hurdles and legal entanglements had slowed their arrival. They have been trying to relocate from the Willets Point section of Queens near Citi Field since 2013, when the city announced plans for a massive development project on the approximately 22-acre space the auto shops occupied.

While in Queens, the shops were often criticized for creating dangerous sanitation problems due to improper dumping of automotive waste on streets that were littered with broken-down vehicles, and that lacked a sewage system.

The collective that represents 70 of the businesses, the Sunrise Cooperative, has been pushing the city’s Economic Development Corp. to accelerate the move because their livelihoods have been disrupted, they say. EDC had been paying $73,000 per month in rent for Sunrise’s space in the 84,000 square foot warehouse since cutting the deal with the landlord in February 2014, although the space has been unused since then due to a pre-existing building violation.

Now that construction has finally been approved, the businesses say they will bring a state-of-the-art, one-stop shop for all kinds of auto repair that will be a boon for Hunts Point.

“We’re going to create a model of the automotive industry that has never been done before,” said Pedro Estevez, president of the non-profit United Auto Merchants Association, who helped negotiate the move with the city.

The building at 1080 Leggett Ave. is also home to a wholesale supply company and the local branch of a large truck manufacturer. Customers will drive through a back entrance on Barry Street and up a ramp into the warehouse, where they’ll be able to get new tires, body work, engine repairs and other services all in one place.

Community Board 2, which criticized the move when it was announced, said EDC did not provide residents adequate notice about the plan. Some say it is a slap in the face for Hunts Point, which has struggled for decades to overcome traffic and environmental problems caused by the trucking fleets that serve the food distribution markets, along with other industrial facilities.

“What we’re trying to do is upgrade Hunts Point, make Hunts Point more environmentally friendly. Bringing in more car shops means more cars, more pollution,” said Board 2′s District Manager Rafael Salamanca, adding that the board has met multiple times with Sunrise representatives, and will be paying close attention to ensure they’re good neighbors.

Estevez insisted that the renovations will modernize the warehouse and prevent the kinds of problems the shops were notorious for in Queens. Each business will get stalls with separate electrical and water hook-ups, along with ventilation and an oil separation system for the sewer.

“We need to change the landscape of the business. We need to change the image,” he said.

The businesses took over payments on the 10-year lease in March from EDC, which provided the majority of the funds from a $5.8 million legal settlement that Sunrise had filed against the city. EDC has also made available approximately $6.5 million in relocation funds to all the displaced Willets Point auto businesses.

Cole Rosengren
The back entrance to 1080 Leggett Ave., where new businesses say customers will be able to drive in for a range of services.
On a recent weekday, construction workers were grinding, welding and clanking around the space. The framework for a few business stalls was already evident and metal beams were piled on the floor. Car parts, supplies and tools were being stored, along with a few vehicles. Once renovations are complete, Sunrise can apply for a new certificate of occupancy so it can officially open its doors to customers.

City Councilwoman Maria del Carmen Arroyo, who has participated in discussions between Sunrise’s representatives and borough and city officials, said the predominantly Latino business owners deserve the community’s support.

It’s heartbreaking,” she said, in an interview with the Express. “I don’t see why we can’t rise above and help them transition.

Some local auto-related business owners in Hunts Point and Longwood anonymously expressed concerns over the increased competition, but said they feel powerless to prevent the move. The owner of a towing company in Soundview echoed owners’ worries.

“I don’t think it’s fair for the Hunts Point community, but it’s New York,” said Jon Diaz, owner of Empire State Towing.

Sunrise members said many new customers will be drawn to the new shops’ affordable prices, ultimately benefiting other Hunts Point and Longwood existing auto shops.

We’re going to bring more business to these people,” said Marco Neira, the president of Sunrise Cooperative. “For sure we cannot handle all the customers.

Scott Barzvi, owner of BB Paint Distributors supply store on nearby Southern Boulevard, agreed the additions may help his bottom line.

“If there are more body shops, there will be more business coming,” he said.

Noe Cortez, owner of Master Car Care, said his loyal customers will continue coming to him.

This industry is about knowing the person who’s doing the work,” he said, equating a good mechanic with a reliable barber or dentist. “I don’t really worry much about other places.

Although 45 businesses comprise the current batch of newcomers, Sunrise Cooperative’s full roster includes an additional 25, out of the 300 businesses that are being exiled from Queens. About 150 of those already moved to other parts of the city in June, but the others will soon need a place to go. No official relocation plans have been made for them, but Estevez said he is eyeing Hunts Point and the Zerega Industrial Park as options.

To further complicate matters for owners in the business, more than 200 auto shops currently operating north of Yankee Stadium along Jerome Ave. may soon be forced to move as the city prepares for a major rezoning of that neighborhood a few miles west of Hunts Point.

Estevez say the city will meet resistance from working class residents as it continues trying to replace small auto shops with residential developments.

“It’s going to be devastating for the automotive industry,” he said. “What they’re doing is gentrifying the city of New York block by block, borough by borough, and they’re not going to succeed.”

By Cole Rosengren
– See more at: The Hunts Point Express