Hunts Point Market to Get $100 Million Makeover to Lose Its ‘Dirtiest’ Image

The mayor’s plan would also spend $40 million to revitalize the surrounding South Bronx neighborhood

The 105-acre Hunts Point Produce Market, the largest facility of its kind in the U.S., is also the filthiest and most congested, according to people who work there. Changing that is among the goals of a $100 million initiative within New York Mayor Eric Adams’ Executive Budget announced April 26.

The plan also includes $40 million for the surrounding South Bronx area and is one of the 70 initiatives in the mayor’s “Rebuild, Renew, Reinvent: A Blueprint for New York City’s Economic Recovery.”

The Hunts Point Terminal Produce Market, opened in 1967, sublets space to private distributors and vendors and transacts $2.3 billion in sales annually, accounting for 60 percent of fresh produce deliveries in New York City. Three thousand people work in the facility, which is part of the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center.

Little has changed over the past two decades, according to workers. Miles of trash cover the floors of the four warehouses, surrounded by seemingly endless lines of trucks. No one seems to know who is responsible for trash collection. “I have no idea why it’s always so dirty,” said an executive source at Nathel & Nathel, which imports from 23 countries across six continents.

Towards the end of the afternoon, some vans are in charge of taking the trash up to disposal facilities, but a lot of garbage actually ends up in the river or in the streets. Credits: Evelyn Nam, for NY City Lens.

“I’ve been to 30 markets around the world; this is the dirtiest market ever,” the source said. “If one of the evening news came here and did an investigative report, they would shut this place down.”

The mayor’s initiative comes after many failed attempts to revitalize Hunts Point’s aging infrastructure, which has remained the same since the 1960s. In 2012, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that $25 million would be spent in Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program (CMAQ) to prevent the market from moving to New Jersey. In March 2015, Mayor Bill de Blasio released a $150 million plan to invest in revitalizing Hunts Point over the course of 12 years. But none of the employees from the warehouses or the corporate office know where that money actually went, or if it benefited anyone from the community. Joshua Gatcke, general manager for Nathel & Nathel, said that $100 million is not much to support all the necessary changes, but still is a great start.  

“Everyone is excited to see the infrastructure modernized,” Gatcke said. “We supply a large portion of the produce that goes out to New York. There’s already the ability to expand, and businesses here are ready to grow, but we’re really limited by the facility.”

For years, a lack of cold storage in the warehouses has forced workers to put the goods into refrigerated tractor-trailer trucks, and there is no longer enough space for vans. According to Gatcke, some truck drivers would rather take lower paying jobs than coming to the market, because of its difficulty of access. Traffic patterns have become more congested, and trucks now need to use back fans, as Hunts Point was never meant to welcome so many vehicules. 

Joshua Gatcke, explaining how difficult it is for truck drivers to park in narrow spaces. Credits: Evelyn Nam, for NY City Lens.

To resolve this problem, the state of New York launched the Hunts Point Access Improvement project in 2019, which involves the construction of ramps from the Bruckner Expressway to Sheridan Expressway and the rehabilitation of roadway infrastructures. While it facilitated movement for truck loaders, residents have been extremely critical of the new project and raised concerns about public health, noise pollution and environmental hazards. 

“When you are running diesel reefers that are omitting bad carbons into the atmosphere, that’s something that’s concerning,” Gatcke said. “It’s not helping that we have several hundreds, if not thousands, of these engines running 24/7.”

In 2018, the number of child asthma emergency department visits was 63 percent higher in Hunts Points than the rest of New York City, and it ranked seventh for adult asthma hospitalizations. An air quality map released by the NYC Department of Health in 2021 also showed that zip codes adjacent to Hunts Point had a higher concentration of air pollutants than the rest of the Bronx. To reduce the carbon footprint of the 78,000 trucks that travel to and from the peninsula daily, the city created the NYC Clean Truck Program in 2012. The initiative replaced outdated diesel trucks with greener alternatives and by 2020, the program reportedly decreased the particulate matter level by 96 percent. The city also built the South Bronx Greenway in 2006 to improve residents’ quality of life with green spaces and bikeways, away from the busy roads. However, the streets are still unsafe in the South Bronx, and many of the 156,000 Hunts Point residents have been complaining about potholes or abandoned cars in the area. 

“Streets outside these walls are a disgrace,” said Joe Vewico, a buyer from Nathel & Nathel. “I have been driving down these streets for 30 years, and you can only go two miles an hour, if you are lucky. If you go anywhere outside the Bronx, it’s not like that.”

Pedro Colon, 37, has been a fruit truck loader for 17 years and awakens at 3 a.m. to get to work on time. A father of three, Colon has worked night shifts for seven years, but he could no longer handle the workload that the position required. In the past, pallets were too small for the amount of merchandise that needed to be transported, and the aging machines were often malfunctioning. Today, the employee enjoys a new set of equipment and hopes to climb up the ladder in the next five years. He is optimistic about the expansion of the facility, but doubts that he will ever see any real change in Hunts Point. 

“Go to school, people,” said Colon. “ It’s tough work, a last resort work.”

Pedro Colon states that he has two rest days per week, but that he often finds himself working regardless. Credits: Juliette Gaudemer, for NY City Lens.