Business / Environment

Auto shops are Hunts Point bound

Joe Hirsch

The empty building on the left is rumored to be the new home for 60 auto parts businesses that will be moving from Willets Point.

Willets Point auto parts dealers relocating to peninsula

Nearly 60 small auto parts and repair businesses that were evicted from Queens to make way for a major new development project are finishing up a deal to move to Hunts Point.

Community Board 2 is frustrated that no one informed it. In the past, the board has complained about the number of unattractive auto parts and repair shops locally. 

The new arrivals would be among more than 200 that were sent scrambling when the city announced in 2009 it was taking the 62-acre site they had long occupied in Willets Point to build housing, community facilities, office space, a convention center and parking.

When city officials first presented the plan four years ago, the autoworkers protested that they were being stripped of their livelihood. Last year they staged a short hunger strike.

Now that the Willets Point project has been approved by the City Council, the business owners are completing plans to move into a facility and adjoining lot on the peninsula totaling about 150,000 square feet, according to Sergio Aguirre, a representative for the group. Although they have not announced the precise location because negotiations are ongoing, The Express has learned they will be housed in the former Manhattan Beer Distributors warehouse, which now sits empty at the corner of Leggett and Garrison avenues above the Oak Point rail yard, a stone’s throw from the Bruckner Expressway.

The city ‘s economic arm, the New York City Economic Development Corporation, which helped broker the Willets Point deal, hired a real estate firm to help the businesses find suitable space. After considering sites in Brooklyn and Queens, the owners settled on Hunts Point, Aguirre said.

The development corporation declined to comment on the move because the Queens businesses “are not moving to City-owned property,” wrote Kate Blumm, the corporation’s vice president of public affairs in an email to The Express.

About a dozen auto body and repair shops already line the east side of Southern Boulevard between Longwood and Leggett avenues, two blocks away from the new site. Many more straddle the Bruckner Expressway along Bruckner Blvd. But Aguirre says the newcomers won’t compete with those businesses, but will bring their own loyal customers.

“The people who use our services are looking for us,” he said in a phone interview, adding that the businesses “have plans for job creation.” They employ about 300 workers, he estimated, but wouldn’t say how many of them would be moving to Hunts Point.

“We want to be green,” Aguirre said of the shops’ plans to use less-polluting technology than in the past.

The shops were notorious for the environmental damage they left in Queens. According to the Economic Development Corporation’s website, “Willets Point suffers from widespread petroleum contamination, with additional potential contamination from paint, cleaning solvents, and automotive fluids.” It adds that the pollutants spread “throughout the site, endangering adjacent water bodies.”

In response to questions from The Express about whether Community Board 2 would have any say in the move, Blumm wrote, “We are not party to the new lease or any of the outreach involved.”

But District Manager Rafael Salamanca said Hunts Point residents and businesses should have a say in what happens in their backyard.

“No one’s reached out to us to let us know,” said Salamanca. “We’re anxiously waiting to meet with the businesses.”

“I know this is a private transaction, but it wasn’t a transparent process,” he said, adding it is unclear what the new businesses will contribute to an area already saturated with auto parts and repair shops.

At community board meetings over the last few years, representatives of the Economic Development Corporation working on establishing the South Bronx Greenway have emphasized the need to limit industrial uses along the Hunts Point waterfront in order to keep industry separate from the food markets.

But as far as the Queens owners are concerned, Aguirre said, moving to Hunts Point was born of necessity.

“It’s our only option,” he said.

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