Revised B.I.D. prop still hot

BY ALINE REYNOLDS  |  Revisions made to the Broadway SoHo Business Improvement District proposal are not satisfying a group of stakeholders that have opposed the initiative from the get-go.

The B.I.D. steering committee has decided to reduce its first-year budget from $700,000 to $550,000, per the request of area residents, property owners and Councilmember Margaret Chin. The committee has also eliminated the mandatory assessment fee for co-op buildings in the proposed catchment area, so that residents in its 14 mixed-use co-ops are only charged $1 per year.

The B.I.D., which would cover Broadway between Houston and Canal Streets, would help promote businesses, keep the corridor clean and control the heavy influx of tourists that visit the area, according to Brian Steinwurtzel, co-chair of the B.I.D.’s steering committee. Two-hundred thousand dollars of the first-year budget would finance sanitation and snow removal, while another $200,000 would be spent on advocacy and administration, and the remaining $150,000 would go toward pedestrian and public safety.

The committee decided to scale back on the original budget, Steinwurtzel said, because, “residents wanted to have a narrower scope to start in order to ensure that what we said we’d do, we’d do.”

City legislation for the creation of the B.I.D. was introduced on June 14. A hearing has yet to be scheduled.

Some property owners and residents, however, maintain their opposition to the B.I.D. no matter what its start-up budget is. “Today, it’s small, but tomorrow, they’re going to start asking for more money [in assessment fees],” said Zvi Mosery, who owns two buildings in the B.I.D.’s catchment area. “There’s no reason to pay a dime—reduced [budget] or not.”

Broadway businesses, Mosery elaborated, don’t need a quasi-government organization to help promote their merchandise or keep their sidewalks clean. Duane Reade and Zara, the retailers that occupy the bottom floors of his buildings, clean their storefronts daily, Mosery said, to avoid incurring city fines. The stores’ managers couldn’t be reached for comment.

“Businesses are having trouble as it is with the economy. There’s no reason to add more [financial] burden on them,” Mosery said, assuming that most property owners like himself would pass down the B.I.D.’s assessment fee to their retail tenants.

The fact that the B.I.D. would charge residents at all is suspicious, 542 Broadway co-op resident Jason Adams said when asked about the revised proposal. “If they’re not charging the residents, don’t charge a dollar,” he said.

The purpose of B.I.D. formations, historically, Adams noted, “was to revitalize certain areas. I don’t think there’s anybody who honestly thinks SoHo needs to be revitalized.”

Jamie Johnson, the shareholder of a co-op building at 491 Broadway and runs a nonprofit arts organization there, feels the SoHo Broadway B.I.D. would by its very nature be undemocratic. “What it comes down to is nine property owners in this neighborhood carrying the [majority] of the property value on Broadway,” said Johnson. (In order for to stymie the formation of a B.I.D., at least 51 percent of property owners — or, alternatively, more than half of the district’s assessed property value — must submit objections to the City Clerk’s office following the City Council hearing.)

The rapid commercialization of the district the B.I.D. could cause, Johnson said, could eventually inflate property values and alter the character of the neighborhood against residents’ wishes. These transformations, she fears, could ultimately drive property owners like herself out of the neighborhood.

“I think they’ll make it very comfortable for big corporations to have their flagships here, and I think that any small business that continues to exist… will disappear,” said Johnson. “The only people who will be able to afford any of these spaces will be extremely rich people.”

Johnson and others also fear the B.I.D.’s eventual expansion into other parts of Soho—particularly since a Freedom of Information Act request made by the opponent group, “SoHo No B.I.D.,” reveal such a discussion among steering committee members in 2009. “They’ve told us, we’re not interested in expanding the B.I.D. to include all of Soho, but it’s perfectly clear that’s exactly what they want to do and that this is just the first step,” said Johnson.

Steinwurtzel denied these claims. The steering committee, he said, hasn’t considered an expansion to the proposed catchment area for at least a year-and-a-half. “It was brought up in initial meetings and discussions only because it was appropriate to explore all the different options,” he said.

The formation of the B.I.D. proposal, Steinwurtzel asserted, has been democratic “all the way.” The steering committee, he noted, has conducted public and private meetings inviting area residents and property owners to pitch their ideas. “We want residents to be involved in decision making to make sure it’s done appropriately,” said Steinwurtzel.

Also countering the opponents’ arguments, Steinwurtzel said the B.I.D. is essential to sustain Broadway as a thriving corridor, particularly since the Association of Community Employment Programs for the Homeless is no longer sweeping the street as of June 30.

The nonprofit’s executive director, Jim Martin, discontinued the service at the end of June when donations from local businesses and chain stores dried up.

“We appreciate that [A.C.E.] has been paying more than it gets to keep the Broadway service going, but without A.C.E., there’s a significant hole in services the neighborhood needs,” according to Steinwurtzel and other proponents of the project.

Soho resident Saul Cohen, who owns Necessary Clothing, a retail shop at 442 Broadway, said the corridor looks “horrible” since A.C.E. stopped caring for it. The trash, the business owner fears, will deter shoppers from returning to the neighborhood. “Every day, there’s tons of garbage,” said Cohen. “The B.I.D. will put the responsibility in the hands of the people to make sure the problem gets solved.”

The steering committee, Steinwurtzel said, will commit to financing A.C.E.’s continued Broadway services once City Council schedules a hearing for the B.I.D. “If we feel confident the B.I.D. will proceed forward,” he said, “we’ll come up with the money to provide services in between. Otherwise, it’s just us carrying the whole [corridor], and it just isn’t fair.”

Broadway resident Peter Davies, one of the lead activists against the B.I.D., accuses the real estate companies advocating for the initiative — many of whom are represented on the steering committee — of intentionally letting A.C.E.’s Broadway service fold so as to generate support for the B.I.D. Some of them, he said, haven’t donated one cent to A.C.E. “Steinwurtzel’s statement shows that the group behind the B.I.D. cares little about actual trash collection on Broadway,” said Davies, “instead using the issue as a bargaining chip.”

Regardless, voluntary or grassroots alternatives to B.I.D.s have proven to be unsustainable, according to Steinwurtzel.

“The 64 other communities which have formed B.I.D.s have found that voluntary contributions to sidewalk cleaning aren’t as effective as the guaranteed support provided by a B.I.D.,” said Steinwurtzel. “This is something that’s been proven time and time again. If you know something will work, why would you do something different?”