Supporters of a Chinatown Business Improvement District hope three is a charm. Having already won the endorsements of Community Boards 1 and 2, they anticipate Community Board 3 will do the same this evening. In spite of this month’s victories, opponents are not giving up the fight. In the past several days, they’ve sharpened their attacks on the plan, as well as the BID’s chief backers.
On Friday, several merchants and property owners gathered in the offices of the Lin Zexu Foundation, in Chatham Square, to declare the battle is just beginning. Members of the Chinatown Small Business Association said they could not afford to pay the assessments the BID wants to charge. They also criticized the group backing the BID, the Chinatown Partnership, which has declined to detail exactly how it spent a $5.4 million street cleaning grant from the Lower Manhattan Development Corp.
And yesterday, the Chinese Staff and Workers’ Association intensified its opposition to the Business Improvement District. Former employees of Block by Block, the contractor hired with the grant money, made many unsubstantiated allegations regarding their working conditions.
(We are not reporting the specific charges because no evidence was offered to back up any of the claims.)
Wing Lam, the association’s executive director, alleged, “the BID is a way to rob the poor in order to pay the rich.” He said the Chinatown Partnership is determined to expel Chinese people from Chinatown. Lam also accused City Councilmember Margaret Chin of being in cahoots with developers and business interests to gentrify the neighborhood. Chin has closes ties to the Chinatown Partnership and to Asian Americans for Equality, the organization that created it.
BID supporters say about half of their ballots were returned, and of those responding, 97%, or about 550 property owners, were in favor of forming a business district. Opponents, on the other hand, report they have gathered signatures from about 250 BID foes. But given the reticence of many people in Chinatown to express their views candidly, it’s not really clear how much stock to put in anyone’s “head counting.”
In some ways, the fight over the proposed BID mirrors past battles. The neighborhood has been fighting over the issue for as long as anyone can remember. This time around, however, there’s a key difference. Margaret Chin, the first Chinese person to represent Chinatown on the City Council, is playing a very active role. Chin has won both accolades and condemnation for her determination to make the BID a reality. Her strong support could very well be decisive.