Willets Point Businesses Await Resolution

BY JOE MARVILLI
Staff Writer

Several Willets Point business owners came together once again to demand the City provide compensation and relocation for their removal from their neighborhood.

Members of the Willets Point Defense Committee of Small Businesses and Workers and State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) met in his Bayside office to protest the mistreatment they have received from the City over the Willets Point development. As part of that plan, the City is pushing out auto-shop owners who have worked within its “Iron Triangle” for decades, with promises of compensation seemingly going unfulfilled.

Marta Gualotuna (right), the owner of Emanuel Corporation, speaks about the mistreatment she said she received from the City over the forced relocation of her business in Willets Point. Photo by Joe Marvilli

Marta Gualotuna (right), the owner of Emanuel Corporation, speaks about the mistreatment she said she received from the City over the forced relocation of her business in Willets Point. Photo by Joe Marvilli

The owners held a press conference to ask again for the City to sit down with them and find a relocation site in Queens that they can move to together. According to Arturo Olaya, president of the committee, the suggestions the City has made have been unacceptable.

“They bring pictures of locations that are in Philadelphia, or in Brooklyn, or in the Bronx. When the business owners go to see any of this property, they find that it’s not for rent, or it’s already rented, or it doesn’t fit for what we need,” he said. “It is a complete sham. They are lying to the people.”

He added that the City had strong-armed many of the owners into closing up their shops or agreeing to terms that had been laid out by the City, entering into deals that leave them at a disadvantage. Many businesses were told to vacate their premises by Nov. 30 of last year in order to receive payment equivalent to 12 months’ present rent. That number was cut to six months’ rent if they did not leave until Jan. 31. Any time after that and the owner would get nothing.

“Some of the members of my committee don’t have any money to bring food to the table, to support their family right now and the City is still not listening,” Olaya said.

Olaya added that the committee had put together its own ideas for where the businesses could go. He suggested that 50 auto-shops could be relocated in an area of Willets Point where some of the bigger businesses were allowed to stay. Franchises, parking or other moneymakers could then be built on top of the auto-shops. The businesses would be agreeable to this type of plan, but they need the City to come to the table first.

Several owners talked about their mistreatment at the hands of the City and Cornerstone Group, an organization that was paid $700,000 by the City to provide relocation assistance.

Tana Gualotuna, daughter of Marta Gualotuna, the owner of Emanuel Corporation, said that Cornerstone lied to them about a possible relocation site. According to Tana, the company said there was a space in Queens available for rent for $1,800 a month. When they went to look at the site, they discovered it was not for rent.

“They think that Hispanic people are stupid but we’re not. They don’t treat us as regular people. It’s disgraceful that people from New York can do that,” Tana said.

Antonio Sanchez, of New American Corporation, has been working at Willets Point for 18 years. According to Olaya, who was translating for Sanchez, the City offered him $12,000, plus another $4,000 for expenses. He closed his place but has yet to receive any money from the City.

“He’s in limbo, just like everyone else,” Olaya said.

Despite the unresolved situation, the committee and Avella said they were hopeful the new City administration will take a fresh look at this issue and offer the owners a deal they can get behind.

“Mayor de Blasio campaigned on these types of issues,” Avella said. “I hope that he will take a serious look at this project.”

Recently, a group of 33 Willets Point businesses and the Sunrise Cooperative umbrella group they belong to, sued the City of New York, the New York City Economic Development Corporation, the New York City Industrial Development Agency, Sterling Equities, Inc., Related Companies, Inc. and Queens Development Group, LLC. The lawsuit, filed last month, states that there was no lawful relocation plan for the businesses and that any relocation assistance offered has been “ineffective.”

Reach Joe Marvilli at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 125, jmarvilli@queenstribune.com, or @Joey788.