Volume 75, Number 5 | June 22- 28, 2005


Business improvement district could revive pride on Christopher St.

At Gay Pride, it seems fitting that a local group is coming together with the purpose of putting the shine back on a symbol of Gay Pride. Along with San Francisco’s Castro St., Christopher St. is one of the most readily identifiable markers of the gay rights movement in America. Yet, there’s no denying this boulevard of dreams has fallen on hard times.

The idea of the new group, the Christopher St. Partnership, ultimately seems to be to form a business improvement district, though not all of its members are comfortable stating this publicly right now. An effort a few years ago to set up a BID on the street collapsed in the face of fears it would lead to bland chain stores moving in and replacing the sort of unique, small shops, many of them distinctive crafts shops, for which the street — at least traditionally — has been known.

However, the Partnership members say they want to keep the historic shops on the block. Plus, the recent failure of a Subway shop to make it on Christopher St. shows that locals, at least, do not readily support this sort of fare.

The immediate concern, though, is the preponderance of empty storefronts. The vacancies are due to a combination of factors. High rent is definitely a cause. Another is the skuzz factor — too many of the street’s stores are sex related. Also, the fact that the street has become even more of a major youth stomping grounds as a result of the Hudson River Park — and the park’s 1 a.m. curfew — has led to crowding on Christopher St.’s narrow sidewalks, which some say is discouraging businesses from setting up shop there.

Right now, the Partnership is focusing on increasing the number of garbage cans and adding plantings. These will help the cleanliness and appearance of the block. In the long term, a BID would provide these sort of services, in addition to sanitation workers and safety officers who would supplement city services.

To create a BID, of which there are now 51 in the city with more on the way, 51 percent of property owners in the BID district must approve of the idea. BID’s raise revenues by means of a special assessment on landlords. In addition to the services listed above, BID’s use the funds to market the area — attracting new businesses — or even to put up holiday lights.

Local BID’s have a proven track record of success. The Village Alliance, Noho New York BID, Union Sq. Partnership, Lower East Side BID and 23rd St. Partnership all have improved their communities. The Village Alliance, in particular, has made a difference, most notably with the Eighth St. sidewalk-widening project that it spearheaded. Hudson Sq. could use a BID, too, and perhaps if the effort to start one up was better organized than the last time, it would get one.

A BID on Christopher St. is no doubt a long way off. But it’s something we think Christopher St. needs and would benefit from, just as surely as would the surrounding neighborhood.

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