Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Cornerstone of Deception

As the WSJ is reporting, some significant snags have been developing over alleged relocation plans to help the tenant businesses over at Willets Point:
A cluster of several hundred auto-body repair shops and junkyards near Citi Field in Queens has proven resilient to changes that have transformed other parts of the city, but that too could soon come to an end.
About 90 tenants in the so-called Iron Triangle have received letters offering them a payment equal to a year's rent at their current location if they leave by the end of November to make way for the first phase of a more than 60-acre redevelopment of Willets Point that will eventually include a school, retail and housing.” 
The deal, however, is fool’s gold and is little more than a bus ticket out of town for these immigrant Hispanic business owners:
City officials have long said that relocation would be necessary to realize the redevelopment vision. But some tenants have been pushing to relocate in a large group or groups and to recreate elsewhere in the city their unique ecosystem of shops that change tires, reupholster seats and repair mufflers.
Tenants said they fear the money is being offered in lieu of such a plan.”
And they are right, because EDC has retained (with no bidding of course) the Cornerstone Group to aid in the relocation effort:
The city appointed Cornerstone Group, a real-estate firm, to help with individual and group relocation. The company has shown tenants about 140 sites suitable for one or multiple businesses.
But some tenants complained that those sites have been unsuitable. Many said their current rent is less than $1,500 a month, but rents for typical industrial sites are several times that.
"A $1,250, $1,300 rent—what would it help? Nobody wants to give us a $1,300 place," said Vijay Kumar, the 38-year-old owner E.T. Tires.”
As Yogi Berra might have said, this is déjà vu all over again. Cornerstone was assigned the task of relocating the wholesalers in the Bronx Terminal Market-and in the seven years since the eviction of the businesses very few remain in operation. Why? Because their success was predicated on their synergy-their ability to piggyback on each others’ customer traffic. Left alone, they went under. 

And history is repeating itself-the Willets Pointers should be aware of the tactic to get rid of their nuisance presence:
To get the full amount, they would need to leave in four months, which they said doesn't give them time to find a site that could accommodate dozens of businesses, much like a large relocation of the Fulton Fish Market.
"In order to actually avail themselves of the funds they need to give up where they are currently operating and move to some fictitious place that does not exist," said Ted De Barbieri, an attorney at the Urban Justice Center who represents 55 businesses that want to relocate together.
Tenants said remaining together is essential to their continued survival because it will help ensure customers continue to frequent the group of businesses, which have become famous for offering below-market-price car repairs to customers that they say come from Queens, Long Island, upstate New York and even Pennsylvania.”
Let’s keep in mind that the city is giving away to the mayor’s cronies (Related and Sterling Equities) the land it had purchased for $200 million! That’s not all. The city is also ponying up an additional $99 million for “remediation”-all of this money was supposed to be put up by the eventual developer when the city council approved this development in 2008. So, once again, Related (and Sterling) get the goldmine, and small minority businesses get the shaft.

Put simply, the relocation is a fiction designed to remove the “eyesore” while pretending otherwise. Even the money is questionable-with CM Julissa Ferreras claiming credit for funds obtained five years ago by her former boss Hiram Monseratte:
City Council Member Julissa Ferreras, who represents the area and is credited for helping to find the $3.5 million for relocation, has been a vocal advocate for group relocation. A spokeswoman said she remains committed to finding a site for tenants to move in large groups.
"I have always advocated for the EDC to relocate the Willets Point businesses as a group," Ms. Ferreras said. "There are ongoing negotiations to make sure that these businesses are given a fair deal by the EDC and any potential developers."
What does this actually mean? Will CM Ferreras urge her colleagues on the city council to vote down the project-one where affordable housing is a player to be named later? If Julissa really wants to take credit here she needs to show some real backbone and insist that this sham development be laid over for the next mayor and City Council Speaker to decide. Will she?

The plight of the tenant businesses-and at one point there were over 200 such firms and over 2,000 workers at the Iron Triangle-is just one glaring example of the mess that the Bloomberg administration has created at Willets Point.

The use of condemnation, illegal lobbying, fraud about the nature of the deal-the laundry list of deception is a long one. And now, the icing on the cake: the Cornerstone Group brought in- like Kabuki theater-to pretend to help the existing auto businesses when its actual goal is to make these struggling immigrants simply disappear.