Free market

The future of New York City’s fruits and veggies is still hanging.

After nearly a year and a half locked in exclusive lease negotiations with the city that went nowhere, the Hunts Point Terminal Produce Market vendors are now largely free agents, willing and able to consider any other offers that might come their way.

They made that clear last week, when their cooperative board voted to reject a lease extension put forth by their current landlord, the New York City Economic Development Corporation. Though they still have another 18 months left on the lease for their current property in the southwest Bronx, as of November they are no longer under any obligation to continue talking with the EDC or the city of New York about what will happen after.

Hunts Point produce market vendors are unable to reach agreement with city officials on a new lease — and now free to move to New Jersey. Photo: Allison Maier

For the past several years, the wholesale market — which supplies 60 percent of New York City’s fruits and vegetables — has threatened to pack up its roughly 4,000 jobs and head to New Jersey, where economic development officials have publicly expressed an interest in luring the cooperative to its shores.

But for the time being, the market co-op is keeping mum about whom it is talking to and what types of proposals it could be considering — beyond making it clear that it is up for anything.

“We’re open to talking to anybody,” said market spokesperson Robert Leonard.

The market’s main concern, he said, is finding somebody who can provide a modernized, competitive facility. The vendors’ current Hunts Point residence was developed in the 1960s and 1970s and for years has struggled with a lack of adequate storage space. Produce spills over from roughly a dozen long-standing buildings into refrigerated truck trailers scattered around the property.

The city has already sought to improve the facility, proposing a $332.5 million redevelopment plan for the market and its environs, the details of which are on hold until — and if — it works out a new lease agreement with the vendors. New York has already collected the more than $170 million in city, state and federal funding that would pay for its share of the work, with the rest up to the market cooperative to contribute.

In the past, the vendors have also emphasized concerns they have regarding the city’s Business Integrity Commission, an agency tasked with monitoring industries seen as magnets for organized crime. The cooperative has said the commission oversteps its boundaries and unnecessarily interferes with business. Leonard would not comment on whether the merchants have been discussing these issues with the city.

NYW Food Map

Click on map to explore the origins of fruits and vegetables coming into Hunts Point’s market, the source of 60 percent of the city’s produce.

Patrick Muncie, spokesperson for the Economic Development Corporation, said the Bloomberg administration has long been committed to keeping the market in the Bronx and deemed the cooperative’s rejection of the city’s recent offer “unfortunate.”

“The lease extension we offered was on very favorable terms,” he said in a statement. “We sincerely hope that the Co-op leadership will reevaluate their position so that we may reach a deal that will benefit the people of the Bronx and the entire city for decades to come.”

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