Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Article from El Diario about Willets Point

The following is a link to the El Diario Feb. 22 front page story about Willets Point tenant businesses demanding answers about relocation, and an English translation of the article's text that was obtained from an online translation engine.

Uncertainty in Willets Point. The city is not taking responsibility for relocating businesses.

Willets Point demands answers
by Claudia Torrens
El Diario La Prensa
February 22, 2009

Living in constant uncertainty. The 1700 Hispanic workers in the mechanic shops of Willets Point have become accustomed to it, and they fear losing their jobs because of the City's pricey urbanization plan for the area, nearby where CitiField, the new stadium of the New York Mets, is nearly finished.

The mechanics' hopes are now focused on two areas where they expect to relocate their businesses: Rikers Island or College Point, in Queens, each one offering a minimum of 60 acres. Both possibilities were discussed two months ago with the New York City Economic Development Corporation, but since then nothing has happened.

The city has remained silent, and the workers are demanding answers.

"Willets Point is an economic engine. That's why we're calling on them to tell us what's happening with the relocation," said Sergio Aguirre, a spokesman for the Willets Point Defense Committee, which is comprised of some 75 mechanical workshops. "We want them to tell us the truth. Don't lie to us."

Julia Sandoval, from Peru, who is responsible for accounting at WJ Auto Repair and who has worked at Willets Point for more than 15 years, fears for the future of the mechanics at the 250 shops.

"I worry that all of these workers will be on the street," she said. "There are almost 2,000 of them, and the city's workshops aren't going to hire everyone if Willets Point disappears."

Moving to another area is a good option, say the workers, who are eager to keep their businesses open, even if in another place. However, they assert that each workshop will lose between 30,000 and 40,000 dollars if they close now.

"And it's all for the big business interests of the City. So that investors can get in here and make millions of dollars at our expense," said Marcos Neira, president of the Committee.

Neira estimates that between 300,000 and 500,000 cars come to Willets Point every year to be repaired. The economic crisis has caused a sharp drop in the sale of cars and an increase in the repairs of many vehicles. Willets Point has not benefited from this, however, because the City has not maintained the sewer drainage system, provided municipal services, or kept the streets of the area in decent condition, he said.

David Lombino, a spokesman for NYCEDC, said that the City is doing everything possible to help workers in Willets Point, but he cannot discuss the possible new locations for the businesses.

"Until we buy the land we cannot move anyone," said Lombino. The spokesman also said that the move "is not imminent," but refused to specify a precise period of time.

The construction of a hotel, convention center, apartments and offices in the area is to begin in 2010. Right beside the so-called Iron Triangle stands the new stadium, Citi Field, which will include a complex of shops and restaurants, bringing the total project cost to over $600 million dollars.

Lombino added: "We are making an unprecedented effort to assist owners of businesses with the relocation, so they can keep their shops, and the employees who choose to follow them to a new location."

NYCEDC has offered the workers a program of classes at LaGuardia College, to obtain a diploma and also the opportunity to learn English. The idea, however, does not appeal to many.

Harvey Epstein, attorney at the Urban Justice Center, described the courses as "unrealistic," since many Hispanics in Willets Point are undocumented, which will make it difficult for them to later find employment. The city has allocated $2.5 million dollars for the relocation of the businesses, he said.

Many see little good in a project that, according to the City, in 30 years would generate an economic benefit of $250 million dollars.