Attention, EDC – Tenant Business Relocation and Survival Plan
"The City will make an effort to relocate Willets Point tenant businesses."
• Eviction by HPD; • No Helen Marshall plan; • Relocation property unavailable.
As HPD expresses its intent to evict Willets Point tenant businesses, as Helen Marshall's "good plan" for the businesses remains unpublished after more than two years, and as EDC does not identify any property that is suitable as a group relocation site for the businesses but instead eliminates potential prime sites from consideration, it is evident that the needs of the Willets Point tenant businesses are being neglected.
The needs of the tenant businesses, if they are to relocate and to survive, are quite reasonable. But as those needs have rarely been clearly identified, and no one has ever articulated a comprehensive plan that will ensure the relocation and survival of the Willets Point tenant businesses, Willets Point Watchdog sets forth below the framework for such a plan.
A consequence of the City's proposed Willets Point development is that all of the businesses that presently operate at the 62-acre Willets Point site – including approximately 240 tenant businesses – will need to relocate.
The majority of the tenant businesses are the type of automotive specialty firm that the public associates with Willets Point. Customers from the entire tri-state area and beyond are attracted to the comprehensive array of professional services and recycled automotive parts inventories that these businesses offer, at affordable prices. As presently constituted at Willets Point, the tenant automotive businesses are an inter-dependent service network which benefits the customers and the businesses, alike. The businesses both compete with and complement each other. That the businesses have thrived for many decades at Willets Point – despite the dilapidated conditions and the City's withholding of municipal services and infrastructure – is a testament to the customers' need for those businesses. Indeed, Queens leaders long ago should have recognized and properly supported the unique automotive business district that has formed naturally over time at Willets Point in response to customer demand. As a business network that efficiently accomplishes all types of automotive work and recycling, it is already peerless throughout the tri-state area and perhaps the entire country. Imagine what it could be, if the City would promote rather than neglect it.
The necessity to relocate the tenant businesses due to the proposed Willets Point development is also an opportunity to preserve and enhance their service network. That cannot be achieved by scattering the businesses to hundreds of separate locations. Rather, it is essential that multiple tenant businesses be relocated together with one another in large groups (or even as a single group), so that the service network that is a hallmark of the Willets Point district and a prime attractor of its customers is preserved.
Although it is obvious that group relocation would preserve the businesses' service network and greatly increase the likelihood that the businesses would survive post-relocation – which should be goals of EDC – EDC has not announced any proactive, comprehensive plan to relocate the businesses in groups, and has not even identified any property that might be suitable for such relocation. Instead, EDC has inappropriately attempted to shift responsibility to the tenant businesses, expecting them to conceive and present a relocation plan.
New York City Planning Commissioners Recommend That EDC Follow the Obvious Precedent: Relocation of the Fulton Fish Market
In November, 2005, the entire Fulton Fish Market (the largest consortium of seafood wholesalers in the country; 37 businesses employing 650 workers) was relocated from lower Manhattan to a new facility at Hunts Point in the Bronx.
The example of the relocated Fulton Fish Market as an appropriate model for the City to follow when relocating the Willets Point tenant automotive businesses has been recognized by New York City Planning Commissioners. During the public hearing held by the New York City Planning Commission on August 13, 2008 for the proposed Willets Point Development, the following exchange took place between Commissioners Karen Phillips, Irwin Cantor and Angela Battaglia, and New York City Economic Development Corporation Vice President Jonathan Gouveia:
Commissioner Phillips: "The work that you are doing with the 225 tenant businesses – Are the majority of those tenant businesses in auto-related uses? And my other question was, if there was any effort to identify sites and perhaps – because I know we do have the industrial parks that were set up and the industrial strategy that the Mayor put together a couple of years ago – but in a way of creating a kind of auto-related center where they could relocate? Because some of them benefit from co-location."
Jonathan Gouveia / EDC: "Right."
Commissioner Phillips: "Is that something that's been looked at, at all? In terms of the areas that have been set aside for industrial areas?"
Jonathan Gouveia / EDC: "As I mentioned, we haven't gotten into in-depth discussions with the tenants. We've hired, or we're in the process of hiring, a tenant relocation specialist. So this sort of ongoing conversation about what their businesses want, where they want to locate, whether they want to co-locate, will become apparent through that process, which will begin later, or towards the end of the summer; early fall . In preliminary conversations that we've had, not all businesses want that. So what we're really trying to do is place businesses where they think it makes the most sense for them. We're certainly open to looking at what works for the businesses."
Commissioner Cantor: "Further to the other question, which I think was a great question: We created new areas for the fish market; we created a new area for the grocery market; so conceptually, would it not be an easier sell if you – if I may – to find an area where these auto-related organizations can go to? You know, and we know, businesses tend to congregate. They feed off each other."
Jonathan Gouveia / EDC: "Right."
Commissioner Cantor: "Whether it be the fish, whether it be the wholesale grocery, whether it be the diamond district; and your answer did not seem to be positive. It was kind of, 'We'll see what develops'. And I would follow commissioner Phillips, and encourage you guys to try and find an area that can accommodate a large number of these businesses who may wish to continue to feed off each other." . . .
Commissioner Battaglia: "I think the idea of moving all the businesses to one location, or finding a suitable location for many of them, would be probably the way to go. What type of assistance will they be given? Would they be given relocation assistance? Would they be given start-up money to configure their new space?"
The final report of the New York City Planning Commission concerning the proposed Willets Point development refers to "subsequent assurances from EDC":
"During the CPC public hearing, the Commission raised questions regarding the feasibility of relocating the area's similar and complementary businesses together in another single location. The Commission acknowledges subsequent assurances from EDC that the City will attempt to facilitate such a co-relocation effort, should there be businesses that are both interested in and have the capacity to co-locate." (Report of the New York City Planning Commission concerning the proposed Willets Point development, ULURP application N 080382 ZRQ; September 24, 2008.)
However, more than two years later, no one has ever articulated a comprehensive plan that will ensure the relocation and survival of the Willets Point tenant businesses.
What the City Must Do: The Willets Point Watchdog Framework
Rather than permit HPD to evict legitimate Willets Point tenant businesses, EDC must actually implement each of the following:
(1.) Relocation in Groups EDC must proactively plan the group relocation of the Willets Point tenant businesses, patterned after the relocation of the entire Fulton Fish Market, so that the service network which is a valuable feature of the Willets Point automotive community and a prime attractor of customers will continue. EDC must stop thinking first in terms of relocating individual tenant businesses, and instead must announce that the default relocation scenario for each Willets Point tenant business will be relocation together with its neighbor businesses as part of a large group, unless a particular business opts out of that default plan. EDC must collaborate with the businesses to determine which businesses will comprise each relocated group, and where the businesses will be situated in relation to one another. EDC must identify one or more suitable properties within the borough of Queens, where it will relocate large groups of Willets Point tenant businesses. At each property that EDC designates as a relocation site for Willets Point tenant businesses, EDC must appropriately configure the site and construct suitable buildings to contain the cluster of relocated businesses. As the businesses have operated for decades under atrocious conditions that have been perpetuated by the City at Willets Point, implementing even a simple, neat, cinderblock row house design at each relocation site will be a welcome improvement for the businesses and their customers. At each relocation site, the City must provide all municipal services and infrastructures that it has withheld from Willets Point. Requiring the signage of each relocated business to conform to a design protocol will ensure a pleasant visual appearance of the entire site and establish an appropriate professional image.
(2.) Compensation The City of New York must fully reimburse each tenant business for all expenses that it incurs and losses that it experiences as a consequence of relocating to another site to facilitate the City's proposed Willets Point development. Such expenses and losses include, but are not limited to, income lost due to business closure during the time necessary to configure the relocation site, to move out of the present location, and to move into the relocation site; customization of the space at the relocation site to optimize it for the particular needs of the business; moving costs; and legal expenses incurred as a consequence of defending against HPD's inappropriate and unnecessary eviction notices.
(3.) Indemnification In recognition of the fact that the City intends to uproot 240 functioning tenant businesses, thereby destabilizing them, depriving them of familiar customers and causing them to suffer reduced income during at least an initial period of time following their relocation, the City must fully indemnify each tenant business from and against all financial losses incurred as a consequence of relocating to another site, until the earlier of (a.) three years after the date of relocation, or (b.) the business's profitability returns to the level experienced in Willets Point prior to relocation.
(4.) Advertising The City must fund an advertising campaign using all available media, to encourage potential customers to visit the relocated businesses at their new sites of operation. Such a campaign is essential to ensure that the value and utility of the Willets Point automotive service network not only survives, but is enhanced and propelled to new levels of success.
The above-described Willets Point Watchdog Framework for the relocation and survival of Willets Point tenant businesses is consistent with EDC's mission. At its web site, EDC proclaims:
"We are an organization dedicated to New York City and its people. We use our expertise to develop, advise, manage and invest to strengthen businesses and help neighborhoods thrive. We make the City stronger."
So: Will EDC apply its resources and skills – such as they are – to accomplish the group relocation of Willets Point tenant businesses? Or, as appears to be the case thus far, does EDC prefer to avoid the inconveniences to itself and the extra staff labor that might accompany a properly implemented group relocation program? Whatever the challenges of group relocation might be, EDC would be wise to surmount them, rather than to accept the alternative: Blame, for the needless and foreseeable demise of a unique, vibrant, successful industrial business district and the 240 businesses that comprised it.
The video below depicts owners, workers and customers of Willets Point tenant businesses.