Tenant businesses plead with Monserrate for more relocation funding

Dejected workers from the Willets Point Defense Committee hold up signs reading justice for Willets Point as the city council votes to approve a controversial redevelopment for the area.

Dejected workers from the Willets Point Defense Committee hold up signs reading 'justice for Willets Point' as the city council votes to approve a controversial redevelopment for the area.

The Willets Point Defense Committee sent a letter to City Councilman Hiram Monserrate (D-East Elmhurst) and other city officials demanding that a $3 million fund set up to help tenant businesses relocate be extended, calling the current plan woefully inadequate for the more than 200 businesses it would need to serve.

In the letter, Willets Point Defense Committee President Arturo Olaya said the existing fund, which would be divided up among the businesses by square footage, seems geared towards allowing store owners to dissolve their businesses and seek other employment rather than relocate.

The group estimated that the average business in Willets Point would receive $15,000, while many of the smaller shops would only receive $9,000 or less. Olaya said the funding would be a drop in the bucket towards addressing the costs involved with relocation, such as new rental sites, storage, moving, customization of new spaces, signage, marketing to attract customers and employee payrolls.

“Time and again, we’ve heard that the Willets Point redevelopment will be a ‘win’ for everybody,” the letter reads. “We are only asking that the City dedicate the same, reasonable level of concern and financing to our businesses’ relocation and survival, as it has to its ballyhooed redevelopment project.”

Full letter after the jump.

Willets Point Defense Committee
126-05 36th Avenue
Corona, New York 11368
November 16, 2008

The Honorable Hiram Monserrate
32-37 Junction Boulevard
East Elmhurst, New York 11369

Dear Councilman Monserrate:

On behalf of the existing tenant businesses at Willets Point, this is an urgent request that you immediately reopen discussions with EDC concerning the funds budgeted for our relocation and survival. Your recent private hasty deal with the City in the hours prior to the Council’s vote is grossly inadequate to our needs, and must be amended to avoid catastrophic business closures that will harm thousands of Queens families.

You have repeatedly stated: “On this $4 billion dollar project, there should be no losers.” Helen Marshall has stated: “EDC must make every effort to help tenant businesses relocate and reestablish themselves as ongoing entities.” Robert Leiber has stated that the City will relocate as many tenant businesses as possible. EDC has stated that our businesses will be relocated in a group or groups if we so desire, which is essential to our survival because we are an interdependent service network.

However, the promise of those words has been threatened by recent actions. As a result of last minute negotiations between you and the City, without any input from us concerning financial aspects, a mere $3 million dollars have been allocated to relocate our estimated 200 businesses (with the funds being distributed in proportion to the square footage that we each occupy). Do the math: The average tenant business will receive a mere $15,000. Smaller tenant businesses, which are numerous, may receive only $9,000, or less.

Those meager funds are inadequate to pay the costs of downpayments on new rental sites, storage, moving, customization of new spaces, signage, marketing to attract customers, and they also won’t cover the many other predictable expenses that stem from temporarily suspending the income-producing activities of our businesses, while continuing our employee payrolls as necessary to perform the extensive relocation labor. Moreover, the inadequate funds fail to address the greatest threat that our businesses will face: After we relocate, we anticipate having fewer customers during an initial period until we rebuild our clientele at the new site(s). Only after some time, will our income recover from the effects of relocation.

Accordingly, if you and the City sincerely intend that we at least survive this redevelopment, then we need full indemnification against ALL financial losses that we will sustain, as a result of our City-caused, forced relocation to accommodate the Willets Point redevelopment — including indemnification against lost income for a reasonable amount of time. We also suggest that the City should bear the expense of a media advertising campaign to trumpet our relocation to the public. The price of providing appropriate, complete indemnification, compensation and advertising must be factored into the cost of the entire redevelopment project as a necessary, relatively minor expense.

The low amount of the “relocation fund” already established by the City suggests that it is actually NOT intended to be used for relocation, but rather, to enable us to dissolve our businesses and to sustain our families just long enough to search for other employment elsewhere. That is unacceptable. We have worked very hard to establish the successful, small businesses that we own, and we want to continue our operations — NOT dissolve our firms and then seek work as employees of others, or be “retrained” for altogether different industries.

Time and again, we’ve heard that the Willets Point redevelopment will be a “win” for everybody. We are only asking that the City dedicate the same, reasonable level of concern and financing to our businesses’ relocation and survival, as it has to its ballyhooed redevelopment project. We should not be expected to obtain bank loans or otherwise become saddled with debt, just to combat the negative impacts on our businesses due to the City’s redevelopment plan. If the City does not fully indemnify us, then we will be forced out of business, and become unjustifiable casualties of this redevelopment. We will lose, and so will our customers.

The greater relocation and indemnification funds that we request are certainly available, now that this project has a large budget surplus. As you know, the City had budgeted approximately $400 million taxpayer dollars to acquire ALL of the Willets Point property and remediate it. However, recently EDC has agreed to permit 3 of the largest Willets Point businesses to sell their properties directly to the project’s developer in the future. As a result, the City will NOT have to purchase 36 percent of the private property at Willets Point. Conservatively, that equates to approximately $70 million budgeted dollars that will NOT be spent, but which are presently budgeted for this project. We request that some portion of those excess available funds be directed to relocating and adequately indemnifying our businesses. We request to meet with you, so that we may show you our accounting projections and discuss how to define appropriate compensation for our 200 businesses, as necessary to our survival. Otherwise, we will certainly become the “losers” about whom you have so often warned.

Sincerely,

Arturo Olaya
President
Willets Point Defense Committee

Tirso Mier – Vice-President
Blas Olivares – Secretary
Edmundo Salazar – Treasurer
Sergio Aguirre – Coordinator
Alfredo Chavistas – Director

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