An online tool offers anyone the chance to redesign Canal and Ludlow streets.
A few weeks ago the Lower East Side Partnership launched a community engagement initiative in advance of a possible expansion of its boundaries and services. On Wednesday evening, Partnership President Tim Laughlin updated Community Board 3’s economic development committee about the project and outlined next steps for the organization.
Residents, business owners and property owners have been asked to fill out an online survey regarding current neighborhood conditions and what improvements they would like to see in the coming years. The survey addresses impacts from nightlife businesses, traffic, cleanliness and neighborhood amenities. There’s a specific focus on Ludlow and Canal streets. An online tool called Streetmix makes it possible for users to design their own street and make suggestions for improvement.
In addition to the survey, there are two upcoming opportunities for people on the Lower East Side to help shape the Partnership’s future plans.
Next Thursday, Sept. 15, the organization will close off a section of Canal Street (between Essex and Ludlow streets) for a on-site visioning event along the bustling corridor. Participants will be able to suggest improvements in the streetscape, including changes in parking, loading areas, bike lanes, trees, etc. Anyone with an interest in the area is welcome to attend between the hours of 5 and 7 p.m.
On Thursday, Sept. 22, there will be a discussion about Ludlow Street. It will take place from 6-8 p.m. at the Tenement Museum, 103 Orchard St. At this event, participants will use a 3D model of the street to suggest changes.
The Lower East Side Business Improvement District was created in 1992. Only in the last year has the organization become known as the LES Partnership. The district boundaries (largely encompassing the Orchard Street commercial corridor) have remained the same for 25 years. Laughlin told community board members that a modest expansion is being considered in adjacent areas where business owners and residents have voiced a need for more services.
“In the past three years,” said Laughlin, “we have really concentrated on making improvements to quality of life as a catalyst for economic growth for our small businesses.” A main focus of the organization is keeping Orchard Street clean, especially on weekends when the area’s nightlife businesses shift into overdrive. Laughlin said anyone walking through the neighborhood early on Sunday morning can see the difference between Orchard Street, which the Partnership maintains, as opposed to Ludlow Street, which is outside its current boundaries.
A preliminary map shows possible expansion area.
During the community board meeting, Laughlin passed out a map that showed proposed expansion boundaries (see above). You can see the current BID borders in dark orange. Expansion Area A (in green) covers Ludlow Street. Expansion Area B (blue) incorporates parts of Essex Street. Expansion Area C (in light orange) covers parcels left out of the original BID boundaries in 1992 for one reason or another. Expansion Area D (yellow) is designated in a small area around Canal Street.
Laughlin said, “We went into this (engagement process) knowing that, especially in the green area highlighted on the map, there are significant residential concerns about nightlife and some of the impacts of nightlife.” So far, around 200 people have completed the survey (The Partnership mailed 10,000 postcards to residents, business owners and property owners). “We are hearing in the survey,” Laughlin explained, “that people would like us to look at the neighborhood in a more coordinated way,” rather than simply concentrating on Orchard Street issues. “You shouldn’t walk out of your apartment on Orchard Street at 9 a.m. on Sunday morning and have a different experience than (people) a block away on Ludlow. That is what we are trying to change.”
In addition to the surveys and the public visioning sessions, the Partnership has installed devices at four locations in the neighborhood to collect data (see here) about pedestrian and automobile traffic at various times of the day. At the end of October, they will evaluate all of the information that has been gathered and decide whether to move forward with an expansion.
If that occurs, the community board, city agencies and the City Council would all weigh in on the proposal. Laughlin said the next step for his organization will be deciding what specific areas and services would be added, and determining how much they would cost. [The Partnership is largely funded through assessments on property owners, which are passed on to commercial tenants.] The city will expect the Partnership to demonstrate widespread support for an expansion before signing off on any new plan.
If you would like to complete the online survey, click here. It’s also available in the Partnership’s office during regular business hours (it’s located at 54 Orchard St.). People planning on attending the Ludlow Street visioning session should RSVP here.
The Lower East Side Partnership is kicking off a community engagement initiative this week, one of the first steps in evaluating whether to move forward with an expansion of services and boundaries.
As we reported this past February, the organization (previously known as the LES Business Improvement District) set up a steering committee to weigh possible expansion beyond its current Orchard Street confines.
During the next couple of months, the Partnership will be conducting a Needs Assessment Survey. Residents, merchants and property owners are all invited to participate in an online questionaire (it’s also available at the LES Visitor Center, 54 Orchard St.) There are English, Chinese and Spanish versions.
In an interview yesterday, Partnership President Tim Laughlin said the point of the survey is to “better understand the issues of concern to neighborhood stakeholders.” The steering committee already expects to hear a lot about the impacts of nightlife businesses on the local community. Transportation issues, specifically the effects of intercity buses, will likely be another hot topic. “The goal,” said Laughlin, “is to have a transparent, public and comprehensive process that engages as many local stakeholders as possible.”
In addition to the survey, there will also be several events in the fall aimed at soliciting feedback from the neighborhood. While no expansion boundaries have been set, the steering committee is looking at Ludlow Street and Canal Street, two areas with high concentrations of bars and restaurants. At some point in September, the Partnership plans to close down a section of Canal Street for a public visioning session. Participants will walk the block, highlighting problem spots that should be addressed.
They’re also using an interactive open source tool called Streetmix. It allows users to design their own street and make suggestions for improvement. You can access it here, making your own suggestions for Ludlow and Canal streets.
A few years ago, the Lower East Side BID proposed a large expansion of its boundaries. Laughlin said that initiative was clearly too ambitious. The current plan will hopefully result in a more modest plan, he said. Any proposed expansion would go through Community Board 3, various city agencies and the City Council.
Click here if you would like to take the survey.
Lower East Side Partnership: new branding.
At its recent annual meeting, the board of directors of the Lower East Side Business Improvement District approved a name change. The 24-year-old not-for-profit organization is now known as the Lower East Side Partnership (a new website is in development).
Last week, we spoke with the LES Partnership’s executive director, Tim Laughlin, about the reasons for the re-branding. He said it is the result of a lengthy planning process to determine how the BID can best serve a changing community. “The idea behind the name change,” said Laughlin, “was that we were partnering with other organizations to further our goals of improving neighborhood quality of life and bettering the Lower East Side.”
The BID was founded in 1992 by real estate developer Sion Misrahi. At the time, the Lower East Side suffered from disinvestment and the community was largely neglected by City Hall. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, gentrification took hold and nightlife businesses became the neighborhood’s primary industry. “I don’t think this is the BID of 1992, or of 2005,” explained Laughlin. “I think that the organization has changed in many ways… as a result of the community around us changing.”
The biggest change of all is the arrival of Delancey Street Associates, the consortium building the big Essex Crossing project on nine parcels fanning out from Delancey Street and Essex Street. The 1.9 million square foot residential and commercial development is the new center of gravity on the LES. During the last couple of years, the BID has been remaking itself in acknowledgement of the new reality.
The BID and city threw a 75th anniversary party for the Essex Street Market last summer.
As previously reported, the organization is working with the Essex Street Market Vendor Association on marketing and promotional events. The struggling public facility will become part of Essex Crossing when the first phase of construction is completed in 2018. In the meantime, efforts are underway to boost foot traffic and to reverse a false perception that the market is closed. The Partnership, vendors and Economic Development Corp. (which operates the market) plan to announce a number of facility improvements and public events in the spring. At the same time, the Partnership plans to team up with other neighborhood groups and institutions. “The concept really is to broaden our reach, to improve quality of life and enhance the daily life of folks who live, work and shop here,” said Laughlin.
The Lower East Side BID has long believed the lack of foot traffic is what ails small businesses throughout the neighborhood. There are high hopes that Essex Crossing, which includes 250,000 sq. ft. of office space, will help create a more lively daytime environment for businesses. “What we need to do,” Laughlin explained, “is to ensure that the transformative impacts of that project (Essex Crossing) are positive. It’s also our job to ensure that the community surrounding the project during the period of construction… continues to remain vibrant.”
The name change does not mean that the BID ceases to exist as a quasi-governmental entity. The District Management Association is primarily funded through a tax assessment on local property owners. Landlords pass on all or portions of the assessments to their commercial tenants. In the past few years, the BID faced the loss of revenues from parking lots soon to be part of the Essex Crossing development site. As we reported last summer, the district plan was changed by the City Council to place a higher tax burden on the large number of hotels that have opened in the area, as well as on the Essex Crossing development. The LES Partnership will continue to provide the same services it has always provided.
100 Gates Project.
In the past, nearly 30% of the BID’s annual budget went for “supplemental services,” activities like street cleaning, graffiti removal and landscaping. In the budget for fiscal year 2016, those services make up 37% of the budget while 33% is set aside for marketing. A big priority in the past year was completion of the 100 Gates Project, which brought public art pieces to storefronts all over the Lower East Side. There’s also been a continued focus on streetscape improvements (like a new pedestrian area in front of the Tenement Museum).
Within the community, the BID has its share of detractors. Critics of the organization say it’s clearly beholden to landlords and too focused on nightlife. The organization’s image, however, has improved in recent years. Laughlin sits on the land use committee of Community Board 3 as a public member. The organization stepped in following the devastating 2nd Avenue explosion last year to establish a relief fund for impacted businesses. Laughlin argues that his organization plays an important role in helping to resolve conflicts that arise between residents and nightlife businesses.
His other point is that the board of directors is an increasingly representative group. The chairperson, Michael Forrest, is a property owner and other landlords are, if course, at the table. But the board also includes people like Niki Russ Federman of Russ & Daughters (a business owner and property owner), Andrew Chase of Cafe Katja and Julian Plyter of Melt Bakery.
“The work that we’re doing,” said Laughlin, “cleaning streets, installing public art, enhancing public open space, supporting merchants in public buildings — all adds up to us supporting community.” The name change, he argued, is a part of furthering those goals.