Business Improvement Districts: Injecting New Life into Staten Island’s Bustling Commercial Corridors

Councilman Steven Matteo, (center) who helped form the New Dorp merchants Association in 2013, walks down a strip of New Dorp lane with Maria Esposito, head of the New Dorp Bid, and Cesar Claro, president of the SiEdc.

In the early 1970s, when New York City was suffering through a fiscal crisis and a stagnant economy was crushing the Big Apple’s once-thriving commercial districts, a sort of grassroots movement began to supplement limited public resources as officials vowed to make capital improvements if property owners would maintain them.

State legislation cemented the plan and the first Special Assessment District (SAD) was formed at Fulton Mall in Brooklyn in 1976. According to small business experts, that very first alliance signaled the birth of the BID.

A car show was held by the New Dorp Bid in September. Organizers say it greatly boosted business and drew thousands of visitors to the commercial corridor.

“Business Improvement Districts were launched in New York City at a very difficult time; when the economy was hitting rock bottom and business owners were truly struggling,” said Laura Rothrock, a senior vice president at Nicholas & Lence Communications, which currently serves as consultant to a number of the city’s BIDs. “In the ‘70s, a lot of the services the city was providing were diminishing and property owners were left with no other choice than to step up and take care of maintenance themselves.”

So when the Fulton Mall Assessment plan succeeded and business owners witnessed a rebirth of their property, New York State pushed similar legislation in the early 1980s, permitting property owners to define and self-fund similar districts.

“The first technical BID was introduced in Union Square Park in 1984,” reported Rothrock, who served as executive director of the BID program at the NYC Department of Small Business Services under the Bloomberg administration.

“Today, there are 76 BIDs throughout the five boroughs, so the program has grown significantly over the past 35 years.”

A formal organization made up of property owners and commercial tenants who are dedicated to promoting business development and improving an area’s quality of life, BIDs deliver supplemental services such as sanitation and maintenance, public safety and visitor services, marketing and promotional programs, capital improvements, and beautification for the area – all funded by a special assessment paid by property owners within the district.

Since its inception, the City’s BID program has contributed over $930 million to invigorate local neighborhoods, contributing over $120 million worth of services to more than 85,000 businesses in neighborhoods across the five boroughs annually.

“In order to form a BID, organizers must go through a legislative process and a great deal of community planning and outreach,” Rothrock said. “A BID is a public private partnership and property owners within the boundaries of the BID are assessed. You can’t opt out of the BID, if you are in the boundaries of it, you’re getting assessed on your property taxes, so that’s why the planning portion is extremely important.”

According to a document put out by the New York City Department of Small Business Services, the purpose of a BID is to improve conditions for business in a specific area, attract and retain businesses, generate jobs and improve the quality of life for those who use the district.

Each BID is governed by a board of directors, which is elected by the members of the district. The board has the fiduciary responsibility and hires management to administer the BID on a day to day basis. The board is divided into classes that include commercial property owners, commercial tenants, residents and public officials.

Underwritten by a special assessment collected from property owners, who may then pass that assessment on to their tenants if their lease contains such a provision, the assessment is billed and collected by the city and then disbursed to the district management association who in turn delivers the district’s services.

The sum of all the individual assessments that property owners pay comprise the total operating budget of the BID, which range from $53,000 to over $11 million citywide. On average, an individual property owner will pay an assessment that is equivalent to six percent of his or her real estate tax charge.

Stakeholders then decide which services to provide to meet the district’s unique needs. Typical services include street and sidewalk cleaning, graffiti removal, tree and flower planting, holiday decorations and a range of annual capital improvements – improved streetlights, custom trash receptacles, directional street signage, custom news boxes and flower boxes are the basic BID norm.

“Clean and safe is the core mission of a BID,” Rothrock said. “And with their allotted budgets, these districts are doing really amazing things.”

The South Shore Business improvement district features numerous events over the course of the year, such as the “Taste of the Town Restaurant Crawl,” when residents visit the local eateries.

STATEN ISLAND BIDS

In Staten Island, there are currently four active BIDs – Forest Avenue, West Shore, South Shore and New Dorp Lane – with one more on Victory Boulevard currently in the legislative approval process. The Richmond Road Merchants Association, which was formed recently, is currently readying to apply for BID approval.

“My original goal was to change the dynamic between government and local business,” said Mid-Island Republican Councilman and Minority Leader Steven Matteo, who is responsible for the formation of two of the Island’s BIDs – West Shore and New Dorp Lane as well as the Richmond Road and Victory Boulevard Merchants’ Associations. “Small business is the backbone of our economy, we want them to succeed, but many business owners see government as an obstacle to their success. My goal was to change that perception.”

Matteo, who proposed forming a New Dorp Merchants’ Association when he was running for the City Council seat in 2013, with a mission of bringing the Lane back to its heyday, says he is a strong proponent of BIDs because they keep neighborhoods clean and safe and help boost local business. A fact that was evident after New Dorp’s first restaurant crawl.

“We had about 1,000 people for that first event and the organization grew from there,” Matteo said. “People who showed up for the crawl returned to shop and eat the following week. We wanted people to realize and remember what New Dorp Lane had to offer. And that’s exactly what that event did.”

After helping with the formation of the West Shore BID, Matteo helped the group obtain security services to combat a dumping problem the area was facing – a resolution that the Councilman defines as a BID’s ultimate purpose.

“By forming a BID, these community members and business owners are gaining a voice and a seat at the table,” Matteo said. “If you have the desire, form the steering committee, get the ball rolling. BIDs bring positive change to all of our borough’s commercial corridors.”

Here’s a brief look at each of the Staten Island BIDs.

New Dorp BID

The New Dorp BID, which includes 180 businesses and 146 properties in a mile-long stretch along New Dorp Lane, from Hylan Boulevard to Richmond Road, and on New Dorp Plaza, from Beach Avenue to Jacques Avenue, was approved by City Council in April of 2017.

Granted an initial budget of $135,000, the district has used their funding for sanitation services, marketing, events, promotions, street beautification and capital improvements.

Launched as the New Dorp Merchants Group in 2014, the BID has gained notoriety over the past five years for its annual restaurant crawl. A recent, well-attended car show also garnered attention for the group.

Forest Avenue BID

Staten Island’s oldest BID, the Forest Avenue Business Improvement District was formed in 2004 to support businesses along Forest Avenue between Broadway and Hart Boulevard. Since its founding, the district has played a key role in launching a number of initiatives including area beautification, marketing, special events, small business promotion, pole banners and holiday light installations.

The organization delivers a quarterly newsletter to keep merchants, property owners and the community informed on current events, features a business page, events calendar and community blog on its website and maintains a strong social media presence with a “deals and offers” category to increase traffic to its stores.

The BID’s Board of Directors is currently working on the installation of planters along the entire commercial corridor and is responsible for flying American flags on the strip’s utility poles from July until September. They host an annual Holiday Stroll every December and have a Spring Restaurant Stroll in April. During both events, eateries offer free samples and musical performances, special guests and rides and attractions are provided to guests.

South Shore BID

Signed into law in 2015, the South Shore BID was created to enhance the economic vitality of Annadale, Eltingville and Great Kills. Currently serving over 300 businesses, the district has placed dozens of new trash cans since its inception and enlisted private sanitation services to clean up its towns three times a week. The South Shore BID also recently installed security cameras in the town of Great Kills and will roll out additional cameras in the towns of Annadale and Eltingville over the next several months.

South Shore BID events include a “Taste of the Town Restaurant Crawl,” a “BID Black Friday,” which encourages residents to shop small and the “Annadale Tree Lighting” which features rides, food, live music and photos with Santa.

The South Shore BID also launched a “Made in SI” Campaign this winter, designed to highlight the borough’s businesses and community leaders.

West Shore BID

Established in 2014 following more than three years of planning by local politicians, business owners and the SIEDC, the West Shore BID, which is comprised of 50 businesses and over 30 property owners across 234 acres, officially launched in July of 2015.

Located within the heart of the West Shore Green Zone, an area that has been long underserved and underused but has a robust industrial community, the BID has implemented maintenance and sanitation programs, installed street pole banners, placed garbage cans, performed major site clean-up at two vacant lots, repaired potholes, cutback vegetative overgrowth on medians and roads and helped launch the West Shore Brownfield Opportunity Area Study.