Chamber chews over Christopher St. business improvement district idea

By Lincoln Anderson

Whether Christopher St. would benefit from a business improvement district was the subject of a recent luncheon by the Greenwich Village-Chelsea Chamber of Commerce.

The event, at Tio Pepe restaurant on W. Fourth St., included a panel of Aubrey Lees of Community Board 2 and Jessica Berk of Residents in Distress, two members of the steering committee for the proposed Christopher St. Partnership, and George Glatter, assistant commissioner of neighborhood development for the Department of Small Business Services.

Glatter explained the basics of a BID and how one is created. If more than 50 percent of landlords in the proposed area vote to approve the district, under city law, it can be created. However, Glatter noted, the city only forms a BID if there is overwhelming support. Members pay a small specially assessed tax used to provide services like improved sanitation, security and marketing.

Glatter said a BID is better than a merchants association, because it insures every merchant pays his or her fair share, such as for things like Christmas lights, for example.

Lees and Berk assured that the BID will help rejuvenate the area. Berk referred to the district being considered as “BAMRA West,” or to the west of the area covered by the Bleecker Area Merchants and Residents Association.

Berk blasted local politicians for not attending. However, Bob Zuckerman, the chamber’s executive director, said the politicians generally only attend chamber lunches when they’re featured speakers.

Tom Burrows, who led the Christopher St. Merchants and Residents Association in the 1980s, said young gays hoping to visit the Village’s historic gay landmarks are hard pressed to find any when they emerge from the subway.

“They see Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks,” Burrows said, suggesting that informational kiosks would be a good idea.

Peter De Luca of Greenwich Village Funeral Home asked why landlords who don’t own businesses in their buildings or live in them would want to contribute.

But Glatter noted the yearly tax will be small, about $600 on average.

Bob Cohen of New York University community affairs said the partnership should convene a big meeting to get the word out about the BID. But Howard Leib, the partnership’s attorney, said they’re not at that stage yet.

Lees asked if anyone present opposed the BID. Rocio Sanz, a C.B. 2 member and the restaurant’s owner, said she does. Sanz argued that the Village Alliance BID, which covers Eighth St., hasn’t improved business conditions and that, in fact, many storefronts on that street are vacant. No one else criticized BID’s on principle.

Some said a new high-end restaurant — like a new place by Keith McNally, for example — would anchor the street’s revival.

Afterwards, Jim Hart, the chamber’s new chairperson, said regardless of whether the chamber is ready yet to take a position on the Christopher St. Partnership they certainly can support an improved Christopher St.