Secret vote on the Soho BID was some tricky business

Local residents who oppose the Broadway Soho BID hope it doesn’t do anything further to “put Soho on the map” for tourists.  PHOTO BY MILO HESS

Local residents who oppose the Broadway Soho BID hope it doesn’t do anything further to “put Soho on the map” for tourists. PHOTO BY MILO HESS

BY SEAN SWEENEY  | With no public announcement or fanfare, after three years of delays and hunkersliding on the issue, this past week City Councilmember Margaret Chin suddenly and unexpectedly persuaded her Council colleagues to approve a controversial business improvement district on Broadway in Soho — less than a month after her re-election in a hard-fought Council race.

The speed and secrecy Chin employed to get the long-delayed Broadway Soho BID approved so immediately after her primary election represents, to many, a low point in political cynicism and vindictiveness, even by New York City standards.

The contentious BID proposal was delayed for three years due to vigorous opposition from residents and small businesses, who asserted that a BID was unnecessary, as well as an additional tax they could ill afford.

After all, retail business and rents are booming in Soho, especially along the Broadway corridor, which commands some of the highest retail rents in the city. Why is an added tax needed to “improve” it?

Moreover, the tax to fund the BID’s effort at cleaning the litter left behind by the throngs who shop at the ground-floor retail chains will substantially be paid for by rent increases levied on the independent, small, creative businesses on the upper floors — hardly fair.

Assemblymember Deborah Glick and state Senator Daniel Squadron, agreeing with a unanimous community board vote and several newspaper editorial boards, did not support the BID, while Chin remained its biggest booster.

Yet, paradoxically, Chin and the BID steering committee, led by real estate giant and prominent Chin campaign contributor Newmark & Co., have not publicized passage of the BID that they have been championing since 2010, keeping the public in the dark.

In another odd — and undisclosed — development, on Sept. 3, just one week before her primary election, Chin drew up an unsigned memorandum of understanding between herself, the BID committee and a few undisclosed residents. The document partially incorporated many of the demands Soho activists had pushed for — presumably to be used later as Chin’s defense that the Soho community wants and accepts her BID. For the record, nothing has changed: Many Soho residents and businesses continue to oppose this real estate-driven scheme.

Furthermore, since Chin was trounced in Soho in the primary election, some believe the speed with which she requested the BID vote after years of delay was retribution for her defeat at the polls there.

In short, it appears that Chin couldn’t wait to pass her pet project soon enough after her election, so she took precious time off her campaign to ensure that the BID would be approved immediately after her primary victory, despite dawdling on it for three years. Clearly, she wanted passage of the BID but cynically sat on it until after she was re-elected, fearing the BID’s passage would hurt her at the polls. Seeing how Soho voters rejected her at the polls, this was her swift vengeance.

Many of the points that Soho activists fought for were incorporated into the memorandum of understanding, and this, they believe, is a victory and vindication of their hard-fought efforts, despite their belief that the BID is still not needed.

For example, the Broadway Soho BID will have a 50 / 50 representation of residents and business owners on the BID board of directors — the first for a BID in New York City. Generally, only one resident is permitted on a BID board.

Another point residents fought for was equalizing the BID tax that co-op and condo residents would pay. Originally, condo owners were to be charged $1 a year, but co-op residents would be assessed hundreds of dollars.

Also, initial incentives for attracting yet more tourists to Soho were dropped from the BID’s mission. Instead, the BID’s services will now basically be restricted to sanitation and security.

In addition, the overall tax assessment on businesses was reduced from $750,000 to $550,000.

Pete Davies of the Broadway Residents Coalition said, “Our goal has always been to solve the problems that big retail brought to Broadway in Soho. Many in the neighborhood have worked long and hard to make the Soho BID proposal a more fair plan. When the government grants a BID the authority to tax, that action carries great responsibility. Those behind the BID have made many promises for Broadway and now they have their work cut out for them.”

After delaying a vote for years, the Council’s Finance Committee, last Wednesday morning, suddenly voted on the BID — apparently with no notification whatsoever to any landlord or stakeholder. From there, the bill immediately went right to the City Council that very same afternoon, where it was approved.

After the city’s glacial pace on the BID the last three years, why was this done in such secrecy, with no transparency and, basically, behind closed doors, with the public kept in the dark? A Council holding a public meeting where the public is not invited nor informed is in sharp contrast to the numerous meetings on the BID over the past three to four years.

In August, at a debate between Chin and Jenifer Rajkumar hosted by The Villager and Downtown Express, Chin was asked during the “lightning round” — “Broadway Soho BID, yes or no?” After several seconds of delay, Chin responded, “It’s passing.”

Also, the recent M.O.U. was devoid of the names of residents who Chin claims support the proposal and who will serve on the BID’s board of directors. It appears the Council was given a tabula rasa, a blank document, to approve. In other words: Pass the bill based on a blank M.O.U., the signatories of which we shall provide later.

Last week, we asked Chin’s Office to supply the names of the residents whom she claims will serve on the board of directors, but got no response as of this week.

It doesn’t bode well for Soho’s acceptance of the plan.


Sweeney is director, Soho Alliance

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18 Responses to Secret vote on the Soho BID was some tricky business

  1. Sadly, our wonderful old neighorhood has changed, and Disneyland is next.

    But, on a practical note, with the financial advantages money can buy, is there a provision for any means to alleviate Broome Street traffic?

    I would then suggest a pedestrian "walk-don't walk" light on the NE corner sidewalk of Broadway and Broome Street, but certainly the BID has taken that into consideration.

    • W, knowing that you were a big supporter of Chin's in the last election, it's unfortunate to see it's because you've clearly given up on the neighborhood. now that's sad.

    • The City has been totally indifferent to Broome St. traffic issues. Margaret Chin was totally unresponsive to requests for help with Broome Street Traffic. In fact, after two years of asking to have the Broome St. crosswalks at Crosby St. and at Lafayette St. repainted, I turned to the Community Board for help, and got that, at least. The police department overseeing placement of traffic agents has refused to regularly send agents for any of the stretch from Petrosino Square, and from Lafayette to West Broadway. Despite campaign pledges by Schumer and by Nadler to deal with the tolls on Verrazano, which causes trucks and cars to go on Broome in order to avoid tolls, nothing has been done in more than 25 years to help us with that. But..power talks…maybe the BID can do something…but at what cost?

  2. This resident disapproves. Chin, I hope it's your last ride.

    • We should ask Jenifer Rajkumar to run again. She put up a great fight this time and came closer than almost any challenger in the city. Does Chin have one more term left or two?

      • Chin has 2 terms left due to the Bloomberg/Quinn term limits extension debacle. That means Chin technically has 8 more years left! However, Chin pledged when when she was first elected that she would only take 2 terms. We'll see if she follows through on that promise, but I'm not optimistic.

  3. Hey Sean, instead of spending your time with misinformation about Chin or the new Broadway BID, why don't you and your supporters come on over to Bway and start to clean up the garbage, and resolve pedestrian safety, and traffic control, and illegal Vendors, that City or SoHo Aliiance can't seem to manage. BTW, this has nothing to do with the rest of SoHo, or you, this is for Residents and Commercial owners who live and or work on Broadway ONLY.

    • "this is for Residents and Commercial owners who live and or work on Broadway" — then why are renters who live on Broadway left out again and again? Isn't what you mean is that it's all about Owners, and the rest of us are just screwed? didn't we end the day when only landowners got a vote? Not on Broadway, I guess.

    • Bidee, you clearly haven't been paying attention.

  4. BIDEE, if this had nothing to do with 'the rest of Soho', trust me, we would not have fought so vehemently against it.

  5. @ BIDEE: I shall gladly respond to your question, once you first have the courage and integrity to quit hiding behind your anonymity, identify yourself, and explain to us your relationship to Margaret Chin and Newmark Realty.

    Until that happens, I merely shall note that one thing the SoHo Alliance did was getting rid of the anonymous shills touting the 3-card monte racket on Broadway.

    See any comparison between them, the BID and yourself?

  6. Margaret Chin did a fantastic job of listening to the residents of Broadway / Soho who voiced their concerns and she fought very hard and won in making sure that the residents of the district had equal representation to the commercial owners. Please note that the residents of the district only pay one dollar ($1.00) per year. So, the ones that fought good and hard for this BID are the ones footing the bill or the tax as some like to call it. BIDS all across the city have proven to do nothing but good for the districts they serve. I wish that Soho was as it was when I first moved to Thompson Street between Prince and Spring in 1990 but its not. There is nothing we can do about that. Fact, Broadway is currently a mess with congestion a garbage problem, street vendors, etc. and this will help to make life better. The angry people against the change that already happened should now jump on the bandwagon and contribute positively. Margaret, I appreciate your hard work and think you did a great job!!!

    • Ken, great that you live on such a quiet, tree-lined street. Wish you could come live with me on Broadway. You'd have a different opinon of the BID. It's only goal will be to bring more tourists and more congestion to my block – not yours. BIDs are quasi-governmental bodies that should not be allowed. They were meant for depressed areas – Broadway is not that, not even close. And as a renter, I now have no say in what happens on my block. Petioning my local council member is now no help at all. She has abdicated to a board of real estate interests both business and residental — neither has any reason to address my concerns. Until the retail tourist trend on Bway dies down the sidewalks outside my apt' are a danger to me and my family, but you're thrilled that the BID will see that it continues in perpituity. So things are nice over on Thompson St. I hear. You've got some f*#@ing nerve.

    • SoHoRealtorResident

      Stop trying to fool us. You do not live on Thompson Street. You are no SoHo resident. In fact, you are a real estate professional, marketing commercial properties along Broadway for huge sums of money and a member of the Broadway/SoHo BID Steering Committee, aren't you? Now do you understand why no one in SoHo trusts the BID?

    • Ken Brandman – You are president of NYCRS and a member of the BID steering committee. You were the guy advertising pop up space at 23 Cleveland Place…when the building had no roof. You are proving Sean's point. The BID is not to be trusted, and Chin is YOUR friend, not that of the people she was elected to represent.

      Also, its not just about the extra tax…its about who has political power on the street and who has a voice on the BID's board. Ant the power is given to: the big real estate companies (such as yours), and the condo owners (most of whom don't live in NYC enough in a year to qualify to vote or pay taxes as residents of NYC). Coop owners are not counted as owners and of course rental tenants are cut out.

  7. I stand by my post.

    • "I stand by my post. "

      Be honest. Where do you live?
      It's not Thompson Street, as you wrote here. Is it? You live on 14th Street, far from SoHo, don't you?

      When you "stand by your post", do you stand by your lies?

  8. As a longtime Broadway residential property owner, I am nothing short of thrilled that this BID has passed. The tourists in SOHO are not going away, but now we have resources and organization in which to deal with the ongoing consequences, such as traffic, garbage, food carts and street vendors. Throughout the legislative process, I found Margaret Chin to be extremely fair in addressing the concerns on both sides and worked hard to structure fair representation. Renters WILL be represented on the BID board. There was total transparency throughout the process. To the opposition, I say, don't be paranoid. This is a win win for our neighborhood.

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