Lower East Side BID Outlines Plans for Expansion

The Lower East Side BID officially moved forward with plans to expand its boundaries yesterday, holding two public meetings to explain the proposal to neighborhood property owners, business owners and residents.  The meetings, a mandatory step in the government-approval process, were held at the DL, a restaurant and bar on Ludlow Street.

In the months ahead, many more public hearings will be scheduled before Community Board 3, the City Planning Commission and the City Council.  Officials with the city’s Department of Small Business Services, who attended yesterday’s sessions, estimated that the process would take 9-12 months.

Since its inception in 1992, the business improvement district has covered a fairly small area on and around Orchard Street. As you can see from the map (posted above), the BID is proposing new boundaries roughly defined by the east side of the Bowery, East Houston Street, Clinton Street and Division Street. 

Several Lower East Side business owners in favor of expansion were seated alongside BID officials during yesterday’s midday session. They included Artemis Kohas of Mastihashop on Orchard Street, Tony Powe of Clinton Street bar Barramundi and David Bensinger of the Laptop Shop, also located on Clinton Street.  In general, they all said an expanded BID would help keep the neighborhood cleaner and provide much-needed marketing support in an area with a dearth of foot-traffic.

Yesterday’s meeting at the DL.

BID Executive Director Bob Zuckerman outlined the proposed budget for the expanded organization, which would cover an area three times as large as the current district.  BIDs are financed through annual assessments paid by property owners.  The first-year budget, would be about $990,000, Zuckerman said.  More than a third would be devoted to marketing, including advertising and community events.  $265,000 would be spent on street cleaning and beautification.  The operational budget would be approximately $251,000.  The average assessment for property owners would be around $756. The fees are calculated as a percentage of the city’s assessed value of each property.

City Council member Margaret Chin attended a portion of the meeting and offered support for the proposal.  “I want to see the BID continue and grow and prosper,” she said. “For residents  clean streets is a big advantage. I look forward to working with you.” In her first term, Chin has faced bruising battles over BID proposals in Chinatown and Soho. At least at the moment, the Lower East Side expansion does not appear to be attracting substantial opposition.

Richard Ropiak, the co-chair of Community Board 3’s economic development committee, was also on hand yesterday. Ropiak noted that his committee will be the venue for a public hearing on the BID proposal. He also made reference to LES BID’s decision not to incorporate the west side of the Bowery in the expansion plan.  If it had chosen to extend the boundaries to the far side of the street, an additional hearing before another community board (CB2) would have been required.  Ropiak said he hoped the BID would look at its plan, with an eye towards encouraging retail diversity on the LES, especially in areas that are currently overburdened with bars and nightlife-centric restaurants.

There was not much opposition at the early meeting from residents. One woman, who declined to be identified for this article, said she lived in a small low income co-op on East Broadway and was concerned about having to pay an annual assessment.  BID officials spoke with her after the meeting about what the proposal would mean for the building, which has a vacant commercial space on the ground floor. The officials said the public process now underway was all about identifying concerns in the community and addressing them.

Another residential building, the 1726-unit Seward Park Cooperative, has expressed tentative support for the expanded BID. The complex, which includes a number commercial spaces along Grand and Clinton streets, would pay a lower assessment than standard properties (amounting to less than $20/year per apartment).  Michael Tumminia, a former Seward Park board member, told us yesterday he supports inclusion in the expanded BID because the Co-op would benefit from sanitation and marketing support the organization could provide. Seward Park’s board will eventually vote whether to formerly endorse the expansion.

During the meeting, members of the audience asked BID officials various questions.  A few people wanted to know what would become of free parking  facilities operated by the BID on parcels that are part of the Seward Park redevelopment site. Those lots generate around $500,000 in revenue for the business improvement district.  While that revenue will likely be lost when the parcels are eventually redeveloped, BID officials acknowledged that free parking is amenity important to local businesses. They said the BID would advocate for new parking facilities once development proposals begin to take shape next year.

The feedback from yesterday’s sessions will become part of the BID’s application to the city. The Department of Small Business services will review the plan with other city agencies before clearing the way for future public hearings.