Good bet Hudson Square BID will happen this time
By Albert Amateau
The steering committee of a proposed new Hudson Square business improvement district held its first public meeting last week to begin a nine-month-long approval process for a BID intended to improve the 22-block commercial area from Houston St. to Canal St. between Greenwich St. and Sixth Ave.
The BID will focus on addressing the notorious traffic problems associated with the Holland Tunnel and promoting new retail and cultural attractions on the streets of the changing commercial neighborhood.
Representatives of Trinity Real Estate, which organized the effort, other major property owners, commercial tenants, the Port Authority, Community Board 2 and the citys Department of Small Business Services make up the steering committee that is trying to form the citys 60th business improvement district.
This BID is an idea whose time has come, said Phil Mouquinho, owner of P.J. Charlton restaurant at Charlton and Greenwich Sts. and a member of the steering committee. Born and raised in the area, Mouquinho recalled when it was known as the Printing District and you could smell the ink and the rotting wood from the decaying piers and sanitation trucks all over the place.
Now advertising and media companies, law firms and business-service companies are moving into the quarters formerly occupied by printers.
But we are an area without an identity, said Mouquinho.
Creating a brand for the neighborhood will be a district priority, said Laura Walker, chairperson of the BID steering committee and president of WNYC Radio, which is in the process of moving its administration and broadcast studio into 160 Varick St. in the district.
Carl Weisbrod, president of Trinity Real Estate, an arm of Trinity Church and the largest property owner in the proposed BID, said that attracting street-level retail is an important task for the BID. New commercial tenants flocking into the district are a little surprised that they cant find a drug store or a bank within walking distance, Weisbrod said.
He acknowledged that Holland Tunnel auto traffic was a major concern.
Im thrilled that the Port Authority is on the steering committee, Weisbrod said. The P.A. owns and operates the tunnel, whose Broome St. entrance is served by approaches on Varick and Canal Sts. within the proposed BID area.
David Reck, chairperson of Community Board 2s Zoning and Housing Committee, who attended the April 30 meeting, recalled that an earlier version of the Hudson Square BID, with different boundaries that extended farther north and west, was proposed five years ago but was dropped because of opposition by small property owners.
It failed because there was the perception that there was not enough outreach, Reck said about the earlier proposal. I knew that wasnt true, but that was the perception, he said, recalling that his own small building was within the boundaries of the earlier BID and that he had been in favor of it.
The biggest thing in this area is traffic, Reck said, adding that he, too, was glad the Port Authority was part of the new proposal. The Port Authority used to have traffic police on the streets directing tunnel traffic, but Mayor Giuliani wanted them off because they werent N.Y.P.D. So the P.A. pulled them back, but the city never replaced them. Now we have fewer traffic people on the street.
While most of the citys 59 BIDs focus on augmenting municipal sanitation services and public safety, Hudson Squares priorities are different.
A Hudson Square public survey questionnaire sent to businesses and residents in the district indicated that the top two priorities were attracting more diverse retail shops and controlling traffic. The third priority, closely related to both of these issues, was improving environmental conditions including better air quality and more parks.
The BID intends to work with the Port Authority, city agencies, community groups and elected officials to establish a supplementary traffic enforcement and management program to alleviate gridlock along the streets leading to the Holland Tunnel. As part of that effort, the BID will explore possible capital improvements to aid traffic movement.
The BID will also make efforts to bring more varied retail uses to the district and will create a marketing program to give Hudson Square a clear and unique identity. Weisbrod headed a similar effort 13 years ago as the founding president of the Downtown Alliance BID in the Financial District.
Streetscape improvements including lighting and more open public space to encourage pedestrian traffic and reduce congestion attributed to the Holland Tunnel are also on the agenda. The BID will also explore new technologies to reduce trash on the streets and sidewalks of the district.
By law, no current city service will be reduced as a result of BID services.
The steering committee proposes a $2.5 million annual capital budget but will spend only $1.7 million in the first few years. Based on that budget, the BID proposes an annual assessment of 19 cents per square foot for all commercial property in the district.
Only owners of Class A commercial/retail/professional and hotel properties will be responsible for the full annual assessment of 19 cents per square foot. But commercial properties landlords may pass the assessment on to their commercial tenants if their leases allow it. Residential, nonprofit and government properties may be assessed a nominal $1 a year.
The citys Department of Taxation will collect the assessment and pay the BIDs district management association, an entity which will be created to manage and deliver the planned services.
Members of the steering committee and their affiliations include Donna Vogel, Newmark; Tony Mannarino, Tishman-Speyer; Jill Fink, Edison Properties; Sam Rosenblatt, Olmstead Properties; Richard Maltz, Greiner-Maltz; Marc Shaw, Extell Development Corporation; Jonathan Dean, Jack Resnick & Sons; Carl Weisbrod, Trinity Real Estate; Robert Eadicicco, Port Authority; Laura Walker, WNYC; Liz Neumark, Great Performances (a catering firm); Phil Mouquinho, P.J. Charlton; Betsy Ferrell, Imclone, and Charles Murphy, Turner Construction Co.