Tenant businesses lawyer up, make game plan

A coalition of more than 200 tenant businesses at Willets Point has retained the services of the Urban Justice Center in hopes of bargaining a better relocation deal with the city.

Arturo Olaya, president of the Willets Point Defense Committee, said the group held its first meeting with attorneys from the legal foundation on Monday night. Olaya said the group, which represents most of the approximately 200 tenant businesses at Willets Point, is hoping to meet with officials from the Economic Development Corp. next week after its alliance with Councilman Hiram Monserrate (D-East Elmhurst) soured ahead of last week’s City Council vote.

“Now we’re going to go face to face with the city, with no more liars standing in between,” he said.

According to its Web site,  the Urban Justice Center “serves New York City’s most vulnerable residents through a combination of direct legal service, systemic advocacy, community education and political organizing.”

According to one source who attended the meeting held Sunday at Olaya’s Auto Trim Shop, more than 30 members of the group packed into a small room to hear the UJC attorney’s presentation.  The source said the UJC attorneys focused on getting together a list of priorities to bring to the city and suggested several parcels of property where the majority of the tenant businesses could possibly be moved — including the abandoned Flushing Airport in College Point and another undisclosed site near Riker’s Island.

Olaya said he hopes the Urban Justice Center will provide expertise that will allow the tenant businesses to leverage a better deal from the city. Currently the EDC has hired Cornerstone Realty Group to provide no-fee relocation assistance and set up a $3 million fund to help businesses with relocation expense should new locations be found — both of which Olaya said are inadequate.

Despite their recent fallout, attorneys from UJC and some members of the Willets Point Defense Committee were scheduled to meet with Monserrate to discuss how he could potentially aid with future discussions. Monserrate said last week he has been a stalwart advocate for the tenant businesses and would continue to meet with them if they were willing to be reasonable.

“I can’t talk to people if all they’re going to do is scream,” he said.

Olaya, however, said he doesn’t believe Monserrate should play a role in future negotiations.

“We’re going to try another strategy, I think. We want to be direct.  We’re pushing the city to have a meeting as soon as possible,” Olaya said. “We’re not going to let the city play games.”

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