Auto repair

As NYC unveils new Willets Point redevelopment, auto repair shop owners brace for another fight

Arturo Olaya, 64, knows all about New York’s redevelopment dreams for Willets Point.

An auto upholsterer who immigrated to Queens at the age of 23, he worked the steely maze of area auto body repair shops and recycle dealers for nearly three decades. He has fought redevelopment efforts against two mayors – Michael Bloomberg and Bill de Blasio – since 2007, speaking out at community council meetings and in the press.

Hearing about the city’s latest plans to build a 25,000-seat football stadium and hotel in his neighborhood, Olaya, who leads a coalition of Willets Points business owners, sent a message to Mayor Eric Adams.

Listen to Mayor Eric Adams discuss plans for a football stadium on WNYC:

“If they want to take this land…we workers need respect,” he said.

“They have to give us a relocation,” he added.

In addition to the football stadium and a hotel, the redevelopment that includes city-owned land is expected to include 2,500 affordable housing units – 1,100 of which were planned under de Blasio – making it one of the largest projects in the city. affordable housing the city has seen. in some time. The $780 million stadium is expected to house New York City Football Club, which for the past decade has played its home games at Yankee Stadium. Related Companies, the developer of Hudson Yards and Sterling Equities, is behind the affordable housing project.

City officials and those involved in the project made a big announcement at the Queens Museum on Wednesday, where dozens of football fans attended alongside unionized construction workers. City officials said the redevelopment would create more than 14,000 jobs.

But as Adams embarks on the long-running effort to transform the neighborhood around Citi Field, he’s about to face the same adversaries as his predecessors: a group of mostly immigrant auto mechanics who work in an industrial district known to locals as the “Iron Triangle.

Over the years, their numbers have dwindled due to uncertainty as well as the city’s efforts to negotiate storeowner moves, most recently to a facility in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx as part of a deal settlement of nearly $7 million. Much of the vacant land where the city plans to build the stadium is now owned by the city.

But not everyone accepted the deal. The mayor’s office said there were about a dozen businesses left in the Iron Triangle, but Olaya and another mechanic, Javier Tomala, said the number was much higher.

According to the two men, more than 90 small business owners continue to work in the area, many of them as tenants. In 2005, there were more than 200 companies employing between 1,400 and 1,800 people, according to a Hunter College study.

Olaya accused de Blasio’s administration of “cheating” landlords, pointing to how many were eventually evicted after struggling to survive in a location far from their customers.

But even so, Olaya said he was ready to move on.

“The fact is that we now have a new administration,” he said. “We have a good mayor. We want to speak with the mayor about his solution for us.

These days, Olaya runs her business from a van parked in the Iron Triangle. At the start of the pandemic, he helped equip taxis with plastic partitions to prevent the spread of the virus.

During an interview on WNYC a few hours after the announcement, Adams said he planned to take a guided tour of the area with City Council member Francisco Moya, who represents the neighborhood and was among those who took part. is pushing for a football stadium. Moya’s support is essential for the plan to be passed by city council, the penultimate step in the city’s lengthy land use approval process. Final approval rests with the mayor.

“I love talking to New Yorkers on the court,” he said.

But he also pointed to the city’s previous settlement agreement.

“There are going to be some – a small number of people – who believe it could have been done differently,” he said. “We understand that and we respect that and we want to find a place [where] they are whole.