NY News 12 (The Bronx): Dozens of auto repair shops coming to the Bronx

THE BRONX – More than 40 auto repair shops will soon be coming to the Bronx.
Pedro Estevez is the president and CEO of the United Auto Merchants Association. He plans to create a model for the automotive industry, the likes of which have never been seen.

“What I envision is to have an automotive center where every business is going to be closely monitored, full compliance and trained… and taught how to manage their business properly,”

Estevez says.

He hopes to start the center in an industrial zone of Hunts Point. The first 45 occupants will be auto shops relocating from Queens, whose owners say they were forced out by the city’s Economic Development Corporation.
The Queens businesses formed Sunrise Co-op, sued the city and were awarded more than $5 million, which will go toward the new state-of-the-art facility.

As crews work to get a vacant building ready for the nearly four dozen shop owners, community leaders still have some concerns regarding the move when it comes to added traffic in the area. Co-op City officials say the location will not cause any additional traffic jams.

The Hunts Point facility is expected to bring at least 100 jobs.

Officials say the businesses should be moved in by early 2016.

Source: News 12 (The Bronx)

Sunrise Co-op Press Conference

Pedro Estevez, president of the United Auto Merchants Association, said he’s an expert in licensing and permits and believes there is “stonewalling” from the DOB, which he claims is “in cahoots” with the Bronx borough government, which wants to “chase them out of the city.”

“The Mayor of New York had the authority to tell the Department of Buildings, give them a letter of no objection,” Estevez said. “But if you don’t give them their permits to bring this up to code, how are they going to do it? … We are hardworking people over here that deserve an opportunity to drive instead of strive.”

Sunrise Cooperative, consisting of tenant businesses being evicted from Willets Point, Queens, calls upon Council Member Julissa Ferreras to not abandon Sunrise’s effort to relocate to the Bronx, Mayor Bill de Blasio to intercede, and alleges a lack of diligence by the Urban Justice Center concerning the Bronx relocation site, at this press conference held on June 1, 2015 in Willets Point.

In English and Spanish.
Recording © 2015 LoScalzo Media Design LLC. Reproduction prohibited.

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

Willets Point, NYC Body Shops Not Budging

They and their workers, who held signs asking Mayor de Blasio for more time, vowed to go on a hunger strike until plans they say the city hasn’t moved on are approved.Sunrise leaders said at a press conference at JAC Global Corp. on 37th Avenue that they want three or four more months to conduct business while their new site, at 1080 Leggett Ave. in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx, is approved, fully constructed and made ready to be moved into.
Marco Neira, president of Sunrise, said that city Department of Buildings paperwork that would allow them to occupy the space has stalled and that city officials, namely de Blasio, have the power to expedite the process, but haven’t.Neira asserted that while $2.9 million — a chunk of the $5.8 million promised to them in the settlement — has been used to pay the architect to file paperwork and pay for April, May and June’s rent, they still don’t have the proper permits.
“It’s money, then, that we’re wasting,” he said.
Luis Suarez, a pastor in the community, said the workers have known for a few weeks that they weren’t going to move out on time.
“If we had the CO, we’d move right now. It’s no problem,” Suarez added following the demonstration.Pedro Estevez, president of the United Auto Merchants Association, said he’s an expert in licensing and permits and believes there is “stonewalling” from the DOB, which he claims is “in cahoots” with the Bronx borough government, which wants to “chase them out of the city.”
“The Mayor of New York had the authority to tell the Department of Buildings, give them a letter of no objection,” Estevez said. “But if you don’t give them their permits to bring this up to code, how are they going to do it? … We are hardworking people over here that deserve an opportunity to drive instead of strive.”
But the break in the agreement caused by not being vacated by June 1 could subject the cooperative to whatever penalties were agreed upon in March.
Neira also said that before the protest, representatives from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development came to collect the keys and were surprised to see that everything was still in place.
On June 2, a DOB spokesperson said that the department will assist where it can, but it’s Sunrise’s and its contractor’s responsibility to get the proper permits that will allow occupancy.
“The vacate date was set forth in the settlement agreement with Sunrise and was approved by the Comptroller, EDC’s Board, the Sunrise Cooperative and each individual member business of the Sunrise Cooperative,” the spokesperson said in an email. “At present, Sunrise Cooperative has not taken several steps necessary to move forward at the new site, including filing the necessary application for permits, which is regrettable.”
DOB records show that the auto body owners must file an application to get an Alteration Type 1 permit, which would allow for the certificate of occupancy to go through. There is an ECB violation listed, but the spokesperson said that does not bar the owners from filing for the permit.At the protest, the workers also called out City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst), who mediated the agreement between Sunrise Cooperative and the Queens Development Group, to help grant them more time.
“We are your neighbors, we are your neighborhood,” Neira said, speaking in Spanish. “She cannot leave us alone in this situation … she is the person who has the power to go to Mayor de Blasio to stop any action they take against us.”
Following the protest, a statement from Ferreras’ office said that as of early last week, the DOB’s Bronx borough commissioner is “personally handling the processing of permits” for the space.
“The Sunrise Cooperative reached a historic, multi-million dollar agreement with the Economic Development Corp. to vacate Willets Point by June 1 understanding that they would not be able to operate at their new location until several months after,” the statement read.
“The councilwoman has continuously advocated so these businesses may remain viable; however, the Sunrise Cooperative has not met the requirements to operate legally at their Hunts Point location and the project cannot move forward until they do so.”
At the press conference, Neira added that he believes their lawyer from the Urban Justice Center did not provide thorough enough legal counsel.
He also said that they were pressured by several parties back in March to sign the agreement.As of June 11, representatives of the Urban Justice Center had not responded to a request for comment.

Written by Cristina Schreil, Queens Chronicle
We would like to thank Queens Chronicle for permission to reprint their article.
Source: Willets Point, NYC Body Shops Not Budging

Displaced Willets biz owners go on hunger strike

Members of Sunrise Cooperative, a group representing employees and owners of small automotive businesses, announced a hunger strike to protest displacement under the first phase of the massive redevelopment of Willets Point.

Inside shops and standing in the pouring rain Monday morning, determined workers urged Mayor Bill de Blasio to allow the businesses to stay at Willets Point for at least a few extra months to allow them more time to secure a Certificate of Operation for a new location in the Bronx.

According to a press release by Sunrise Cooperative, a deal would relocate 17 Willets Point businesses to Leggett Avenue in the Bronx. It was expected that the new shops would be ready, but as June 1 came and went, they were still waiting.

Single mother Julia Sandoval has been working in the Willets Point automotive industry for 17 years to support her children.

According to Sandoval, her doctor advised against participating in the hunger strike due to her diabetic condition, but she decided to participate to show how serious she is about saving her job.

“If they are going to close my place, what am I going to do?” Sandoval asked. “We don’t know what to do.”

Marco Neira, president of Sunrise Cooperative, said all the owners want is more time. Neira is confident the hunger strike will continue until the mayor’s office responds to their requests.

Pedro Estevez, president and founder of the United Auto Merchants Association, spoke on behalf of many workers, most of whom only speak Spanish.

Over a year ago, Estevez found an 85,000-square-foot site in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx with the intention of relocating the businesses displaced by the first phase of the redevelopment. Reluctantly, most business owners agreed to make the costly move, seeing no other options.

But without the Certificate of Operation, the shops were unable to move by the June 1st deadline.

Estevez said the location was deemed suitable for manufacturing by the Department of Buildings, but the certificate did not specify auto repair uses.

“Honestly, they are trying to do the right thing,” Estevez said of the displaced business owners. “They are trying to be independent and to independently fulfill the obligation of supporting their families. They don’t want to be dependent on government hand-me-downs.”

by Francesca Campione

Auto shops rail against city plan at Willets Point

Business owners who work in the shadow of Citi Field used this week’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game festivities as an opportunity to shed light on the harsh realities they contend go under the radar just across the street.

Inside the ballpark, swarms of sports fans enjoyed the baseball spotlight with the Home Run Derby Monday and the annual All-Star Game the following evening. But just before Tuesday’s first pitch, auto shop owners held up signs accusing the city of working with their neighbor’s home team to kick them out in accordance with city’s ambitious redevelopment plans.

“A lot of people have the impression that the Mets are doing well,” said Discount Mufflers owner Jamie Satti, of the team across 126th Avenue. “They have no idea what they are doing to the business owners in Willets Point.”

Satti and a crowd of fellow business owners and supporters rallied Tuesday evening against the city for serving them with eviction notices in front of his 37-03 126th St. business just as the crowd grew for the big game. He said he hoped the timing would help draw attention to the auto shop haven’s rocky and dirty streets littered with puddles of standing water and neglect.

“Nobody cares what is going to happen to us,” he said. “We have no voice and no support.”

The eviction notices came this week from the city Economic Development Corp. as the result of more than 10 years of redevelopment negotiations involving Willets Point’s future, which will include retail, hotel, commercial and residential upgrades. A spokesman for the EDC said the first phase of the project included the renovation of the 23-acre piece of land in 2014 at the heart of Tuesday’s protest.

Auto shop owners like Satti have been told they were offered the city’s support in relocating their shops elsewhere to communities like Maspeth, but many said the help has been lackluster and half-hearted.

“The city is lying to us about this relocation plan,” said Marco Neira, a tenant in Willets Point and president of the Willets Point Defense Committee. “We pay taxes every year and these are the conditions we have to show for it. If they want this land, they have to give us a place to go.”

The Queens Business Outreach Center of Corona released a report this week outlining the importance of the Willets Point auto repair district, referring to it as a unique, regional destination with about 150 predominately Latino and immigrant-owned businesses and about 1,711 workers.

For months, the city has been shutting down businesses throughout the $3 billion project’s footprint on the grounds of newfound safety issues and construction concerns, the owners said. Borough President Helen Marshall also gave the green light last week to a mall that would be built in an area currently used for Citi Field parking, sparking more outrage from members of the community.

“We are all small businesses, and we are all minorities,” said Pedro Estevez, president and founder of the nonprofit United Auto Merchants Association. “We are behind these business owners because we feel an injustice is being done. If they hurt one small business, they hurt all of us.”

Source: Auto shops rail against city plan at Willets Point