The Lower East Side
Traditions and transitions
Villager photo by Jefferson Siegel
Roberto Ragone in his office at the Lower East Side Business Improvement District
New BID director brings experience in government
By Albert Amateau
With a wealth of experience as a staff member with the City Council and the State Senate working on public policy, Roberto Ragone came to his new job as executive director of the Lower East Side Business Improvement District a month ago.
“It seems like a lifetime ago,” he remarked to a visitor who came to the office at 261 Broome St. to interview him on a busy Friday afternoon. “When you work for a BID you become totally immersed in the neighborhood and that dominates your sense of time,” he said.
Endowed with an overflow of energy and commitment, Ragone has been getting into the issues and challenges of the district, which extends roughly between Houston and Grand Sts. between Allen and Ludlow Sts., since Sept. 11 of this year.
The anniversary of the World Trade Center attack is evolving into a period of renewal for the city, Ragone observed.
“It was the beginning of a period of renewal for me too,” he added. “Friends and colleagues who knew that I was a constituency person as well as a policy person told me about the job on the BID Web site and eureka! It was for me,” he said.
The BID is committed to making the district a daytime retail destination as well as a nighttime restaurant and bar destination.
“We have a wonderful mix of chic new boutiques and the day-to-day bargain stores,” he said. Ragone’s immediate challenge is to get shoppers down to the district the day after Thanksgiving, traditionally the most popular shopping day of the year. “They call it ‘Black Friday’ because a store that’s been losing money counts on that day to turn a profit for the year bottom-line losses are entered on the books in red ink and profits are entered in black ink,” he noted.
“We’re telling people to come here on Black Friday and they won’t regret it.” Ragone said. “It’s a place to find the resourcefulness of the immigrants and the creativity of the contemporary,” he said. The newest promotion for daytime shopping and nightlife in the neighborhood, the “Go East” shopping guide and discount card is available on the BID Web site, www.lowereastsideny.com. Events like the Sixth Annual Pickle Day on Sept. 17, organized by the BID’s marketing director, Dara Lehon, are important aspects of the district’s marketing effort.
“It brought between 7,000 and 9,000 people to the district,” Ragone noted.
In addition to the big promotions, there are weekly and monthly events. One of them, ELS-LES (Every Last Sunday Lower East Side) is a guided tour of the district’s art galleries that takes place the last Sunday of each month beginning at 1 p.m. at the BID’s Broome St. office. A guided walking tour of the district every Sunday begins at 11 a.m. at Katz’s Delicatessen on E. Houston and Ludlow Sts.
Ragone is currently exploring the potential effect on Lower East Side blocks from Houston to Delancey Sts. of the proposed rezoning that would generally impose height limits while at the same time mandate greater lot coverage and density of new buildings.
“There’s a general concern about unintended consequences,” Ragone said. “For example, lot coverage could be a wash if rear-yard light and air rules are violated. And what kind of impact would new residential buildings and hotels have on foot traffic?” he added.
Ragone, 42, was born in the Williamsbridge section of the Bronx to parents who came from the region around Salerno, Italy.
“In fact, we lived in Italy from when I was about 2½ years old until I was 5,” he said, noting that his family has always been involved in Italian-American affairs. He went to Bronx High School of Science and then to Columbia University where he graduated with a major in history.
“Even in high school I liked working with different ethnic communities it’s like I was preparing for this job,” he said.
His first job with the City Council was on the Criminal Justice Committee, organizing hearings and writing reports exploring alternatives to incarceration and ways to improve police relations with the community.
Ragone then worked for State Senator Martin Connor, then minority leader of the Senate, working on public policy.
His second job with the Council followed, working on public policy regarding the city’s infrastructure. A special project was for the Council’s Recycling Task Force. Ragone also helped produce a Council report on air quality in the wake of the World Trade Center attack. Another report dealt with suggestions to improve the state Empire Zone program that granted tax incentives for new or expanded business in zones like Chinatown in Manhattan.
Ragone spent a total of five years working for the City Council under Speakers Peter Vallone Sr., Gifford Miller and for a short time, Christine Quinn.
“But the BID is my ideal job,” he said.