Bay Street gets a makeover

As part of Neighborhood 360 Program, Bay Street selected for Commercial Corridor Challenge

LISC NYC members with SI Chamber members pose in front of a new restaurant on Bay Street. (Photo by Steve White)

Staten Island’s Bay Street corridor has a rich history: Inhabited first by rows of Dutch colonial farmhouses in the early 1800s, the three-mile stretch of land eventually morphed into a retail hub between the 1920s and ’50s — dotted with rows of bakeries, beer gardens and boutiques. But after decades of neighborhood neglect and economic struggle, historic theaters and hotels gradually shuttered, making way for warehouses, car dealerships and other largely industrial establishments.

And while the pedestrian-packed strip never fully lost its vibrancy, Bay Street — thanks to commercial projects such as the New York Wheel and URBY — is experiencing a retail rebirth.

“Bay Street is one of Staten Island’s few remaining main streets, a waterfront community steeped in history,” noted Linda Baran, president and CEO of the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce. “And although for a time it was somewhat depressed, it is now the site of some of the city’s largest and most exciting business projects.”

Which is why the Local Initiatives Support Corporation NYC, Citi Community Development and the NYC Department of Small Business Services has chosen the area for its Commercial Corridor Challenge, a public-private partnership that will build upon and supplement the NYC Department of Small Business Services’ Neighborhood 360° Program. The initiative aims to strengthen commercial corridors and small businesses throughout the city with strategic interventions, including storefront improvements and targeted marketing events — with an ultimate goal of helping small, locally-owned businesses thrive in rapidly changing neighborhoods.

Gregg Bishop, NYC commissioner of Small Business Services, and Linda Baran, president and CEO of the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce, pose at a press conference in Tappen Park to discuss emerging small businesses on Bay Street. (Photo by Steve White)

“Commercial corridors like Bay Street are not just vital to the city’s economy, they also play a very important social role in the community,” noted Sam Marks, executive director of LISC NYC. “This is not just a place where people shop — it is an area where local culture is expressed and where small businesses thrive. Each and every one of these restaurants and shops are an important part of the neighborhood, and this program intends to keep the area vibrant and successful.”

LISC, which has 31 local program offices covering 40 states, has had success with similar Corridor Challenges throughout the country and hopes to bring that same success to the five boroughs.

“LISC is a national organization, so although this is the first Commercial Corridor Challenge in New York City, this work has been field tested with other organizations in other cities around the country,” Marks said. “We are drawing upon our expertise from past projects and have established a great collaboration with Citi Community Development and the NYC Department of Small Business Services to make this a success.”

Bay Street’s restoration is part of a larger effort to revitalize other communities throughout the city: Fulton Street in East New York, Brooklyn and Southern Boulevard in Crotona Park East, Bronx, will also benefit from similar redesigns. According to organizers, Staten Island was selected since storefront vacancies in Stapleton hover at 24 percent, while the average retail vacancy rate in Lower Manhattan is 10 percent.

“We went through a rigorous process that started with a lot of outreach,” noted Eva Alligood, deputy director of LISC. “The Staten Island Chamber of Commerce went out and spoke with dozens of local business owners to identify the needs of the community. The research was data driven and analytic — we measured foot traffic, looked at the annual performance of each business — all steps that one individual business may not have the capacity to take on its own.”

With $525,000 in funding from LISC and Citi Community Development, LISC deployed planners, architects and community development professionals to help local partner organizations assess the physical and market conditions along their corridors, and to determine the particular strategic interventions that are the most appropriate to spur revitalization in their corridor. These experts are now in the process of designing and implementing highly visible, strategic interventions, a process that should take less than 12 months.

“What set this program apart for us were the partners around the table,” noted Eileen Auld, New York Tri-State director at Citi Community Development. “In addition to their own national experience, LISC has brought together a group of expert consultants with intellectual firepower and experience that makes this a targeted, strategic approach that builds on the NYC Department of Small Business Services’ commitment to invest in the future of key commercial corridors.”

The Staten Island Chamber of Commerce received a grant of $50,000 to carry out the program. Twenty-five applications were received from businesses along Bay Street, and winning applications were selected based on business location, need for physical storefront improvements, tenure in the neighborhood and potential for the interventions to be catalytic.

In total, 17 applicants are being invited to carry out signage, lighting, awning and external painting projects. Participating business owners will contribute a 20 percent match of improvement costs, and improvements are projected to be implemented by March.

“This program is very significant for Staten Island,” Baran said.

“It’s important that small businesses in Stapleton are ready and able to capitalize on all the big development happening nearby. We’re grateful to LISC, Citi and SBS for recognizing this and partnering with the Chamber to help these businesses with concrete physical improvements and expert guidance that will strengthen their ability to succeed and grow.”