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Both sides of the BID-expansion controversy

The 82nd Street Partnership would under go a huge expansion under a plan now being considered. The Business Improvement District (BID) would increase its size many times over, stretching along Roosevelt Avenue from 82nd Street to 104th Street and include a segment on Junction Boulevard up to 35th Avenue. Not everyone thinks the expansion is a good idea, however.

We have two pieces on the Jackson Heights-Corona BID, one that favorably describes it, the other opposed. The opposition piece is from two members of Queens Neighborhoods United. Seth Taylor, who heads the 82nd Street Partnership, declined to submit an article so we used material from the Jackson Heights-Corona BID website. We encourage you to read both.

Expanded BID would strengthen our small business community

The proposed Jackson Heights-Corona Business Improvement District would provide services to strengthen our diverse small business community. With the support of the district’s property owners, business owners, entrepreneurs, elected council member, community boards, community-based organizations and residents, the proposed Jackson Heights-Corona BID would create a cleaner, safer, and more pleasant place for everyone.

BIDS are publicly authorized and privately administered nonprofit organizations made up of landlords and commercial tenants. Property and business owners make a collective investment that goes directly to the maintenance, development and promotion of the commercial district.

There are currently 67 BIDs throughout New York City that have helped revitalize neighborhoods from Flushing to Times Square. Business improvement districts similar to the proposed Jackson Heights-Corona BID include the Myrtle Avenue Brooklyn Partnership and Washington Heights BID. The Neighborhood Development Division of NYC’s Department of Small Business Services supports the creation and growth of non-profit economic development organizations such as BIDs.

The formation of a new BID requires support from a district’s property owners and commercial tenants. Widespread support among stakeholders is necessary for a BID formation to be successful. Once the planning and outreach phases are complete, NYC’s Department of Small Business Services takes the formation through its legislative authorization process.

BIDs deliver supplemental services, above and beyond what government provides, such as sanitation and maintenance, public safety, marketing, beautification and capital improvements. In addition to advocating for effective delivery of existing city services, BIDs address the specific needs of commercial corridors and advocate for additional resources from the city.

Proposed BID services are based on a survey of district stakeholders and other public input. Through inclusive planning and broad outreach, property owners, commercial tenants and entrepreneurs in the district will become informed about the proposed BID services and will be provided with many opportunities to give feedback.

Services are funded by a special assessment paid by property owners and commercial tenants within the district. This assessment is a collectively decided and agreed-upon fee that is collected by the city and returned in full to the BID to be spent on locally defined services.

A Jackson Heights-Corona BID would provide supplemental sanitation services such as sidewalk sweeping and power washing, graffiti removal, sticker and flyer removal. A full time “Clean Team,” hired locally in the neighborhood, would keep our street, sidewalks, and public spaces clean and litter free.

The new BID could improve public spaces through new amenities such as bike racks, benches, brighter streetlights, and more trash receptacles. Underutilized public spaces such as parks and plazas could become places for cultural and community activities. Flowers and street trees could help beautify the area.

With food and shopping guides, a website and online social media, the Business Improvement District could effectively brand the neighborhood and promote our small businesses. A BID could also organize neighborhood events such as street fairs and festivals in our local plazas and park space.

More information is available by going to the website for the proposed BID.

BIDs are undemocratic and would raise rents on small businesses

By Tania Mattos and Marty Kirchner,

Queens Neighborhoods United

Like many New Yorkers, we at Queens Neighborhoods United were saddened to recently read that the Union Square Café will close its doors due to rising rents. If one of the city’s top-rated restaurants can’t make it, what hope is there for the rest of us?

It turns out that one of the factors in the restaurant’s skyrocketing costs was the presence of a Business Improvement District, which significantly contributed to Union Square becoming a high-rent district. BIDs like Union Squares’ claim to represent the interests of small businesses. Yet, the Union Square Partnership didn’t prevent this culinary landmark from being displaced. We looked into the impact that BIDs have had on neighborhoods across the city.

BIDs are partnerships between the city government and the private sector to advance the interests of commercial property owners within a specific geographic area. Although BIDs market themselves as a resource for small business owners and even for the whole community, they are established as a means to raise land values, which means sharp rent increases for commercial and residential tenants. The BIDs’ often-recited message of “safe and clean” tends to obscure more controversial objectives that BIDs seek, including the private management of public space, land-use planning, and tourism promotion.

BIDs are highly undemocratic in their decision-making. Though commercial tenants often pay the higher costs of having a BID, landlords comprise a majority of a BID’s board of directors. And while significant portion of BID budgets come from taxpayers, residents are practically excluded from deciding how the money gets spent.

When we started talking to people about the BID, we found small business owners and residents along Roosevelt Avenue and Junction Boulevard were overwhelmingly against the proposed expansion of the 82nd Street Partnership. Many business owners point to the many corporate chain stores on 82nd Street as an example of what would happen to Roosevelt Avenue.

And while the 82nd Street Partnership claims that a BID will protect small businesses against the Willets West mall in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, a Freedom of Information Law request revealed that the mall developers have committed to give $500,000 to the BID over the next ten years. Business owners and residents ask us, how can we believe this revenue won’t influence BID decisions?

One way to establish a sense of belonging in one’s neighborhood is through the civic activity of planting trees and community gardens. To send a message that our neighborhoods do not want or need a BID, residents and small business owners have begun planting trees, painting storefronts, and sweeping the sidewalks along Roosevelt Avenue every other Saturday. We don’t intend to replace services that the city should be providing. Instead, we want to draw attention to the fact that our elected officials have long neglected us, and that privatizing these basic services in the form of a BID will only further destabilize our neighborhoods.

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