Volume 73, Number 3 | May 19 - 25, 2004

A special Villager supplement

Partnership is taking a second look at expansion

By Albert Amateau

The Union Square Partnership is taking a second look at its proposal to expand the city’s first business improvement district to double both its area and the number of its participating properties.

Organized 20 years ago to include all the properties around Union Sq. and on both sides of 14th St. between Sixth and First Aves., the BID proposed earlier this year to extend the boundaries to Seventh Ave. along 14th St. and from the west side of Sixth Ave. to Irving Pl. and Park Ave. S. from 15th to 20th Sts.

Karen Shaw, executive director of the Partnership, said last week that the BID was mindful of opposition that was expressed at a public meeting in February.

“We’re continuing to review the expansion and looking at different options,” she said. “But we’ve heard loud and clear from people in the community who know our track record and want to have our services.”

Nevertheless, at Community Board 6’s full monthly meeting on Wed. May 12, Toni Carlina, Board 6 district manager, told board members the Partnership reported it was considering pulling back the proposed BID expansion boundaries on the northeast. Community Board 6 extends from 14th to 59th Sts. roughly between Lexington Ave. and the East River.

Jack Taylor, a preservation advocate and a resident of the Union Sq. neighborhood who was present at a Feb. 25 public meeting where many residents and some merchants opposed the BID expansion, said the Partnership “was overly ambitions in its geographic scope.”

Michele Golden, vice president of the Flatiron Alliance, a neighborhood group covering the area north and west of the current BID that is opposed to the expansion, said the Alliance has retained attorney Arthur Schwartz, Greenwich Village Democratic district leader, to represent them before city agencies on the expansion issue.

“People in the Flatiron and the Ladies’ Mile District are against the expansion,” Golden said. “We don’t want to be in the Union Sq. BID and we don’t want the 23rd St. Association to come down and take us over either. We’re still waiting for the BID’s survey on all the businesses who said they wanted to be included in the district. We have lots of residents, and businesses too, who don’t want to be included.”

The 23rd St. Association is in the process of organizing a Madison Sq./ Flatiron BID between 21st St. (a block north of the Union Sq. BID’s proposed expansion boundary) and 29th St. from Third to Sixth Aves. The Madison Sq./Flatiron BID could be approved as early as September of this year.

Schwartz said he intends to make sure that every step in the BID approval process is followed. “That includes getting the support of a majority of the property owners,” he said. “And I want to make sure that all the information about the expansion from any agency, including the Mayor’s Office, is made available to the opponents.”

The Bloomberg administration is a strong supporter of BID’s, which are supervised by the Department of Small Business Services. There are 46 existing BID’s in the five boroughs and 11 new ones are currently in formation. If the City Council approves a BID, it can still be defeated if 51 percent of the number of property owners with at least 51 percent of the assessed valuation vote against it.

Supplementary services that BID’s provide include sanitation, public safety and visitor assistance, marketing and promoting districts as commercial destinations, improved lighting and signs and providing services for youth and homeless people. BID’s are funded by an added assessment on property, which landlords may pass on to commercial tenants. Residential properties are assessed at a lower rate than commercial ones, and properties owned and occupied by nonprofit groups do not generally pay an assessment.

The Union Sq. BID was the city’s first, organized in 1984. It is considered the most successful. “We’re attracting some very exciting new retailers — Whole Foods, Filene’s are coming to the building on the south side of 14th St. where Bradlee’s used to be, and Forever 21, a young women’s clothing retailer from the West Coast, is also going to open here,” said Shaw.

Whole Foods will fill three floors, a total of 50,000 sq. ft., in the former Bradlee’s building, and is to open in early 2005. Forever 21, Filene’s and DSW, a shoe store, are scheduled to open in early fall.

The Union Sq. BID, with the current proposed expansion boundaries, would include more than 24 million sq. ft. of building floor space and more than 5,500 businesses.

Among the new business would be ABC Carpets on Broadway at 19th St. and Paragon Sports on 18th St. and Broadway. Businesses in the Historic Ladies’ Mile District stretching along Sixth Ave. including Bed Bath and Beyond would also be part of the enlarged district.

Kyle Merker, chairperson of Community Board 5, whose district includes the current BID and much of the proposed expanded district, said the board has generally worked well with the Union Sq. BID and other BID’s in the board area.

Board 5 extends between 14th and 59th Sts. roughly from Lexington to Sixth Ave. up to 25th St. and to Eighth Ave. north of 25th St.

“Community Board 5 has 10 BID’s — more than any other in the city — including Union Sq., Times Sq., Bryant Park, 34th St., Fifth Ave., and we’ll have the Madison Sq./Flatiron BID, too,” said Merker. “We have residents in every BID — they’re not all commercial — and the question about the Union Sq. expansion is how the residents will fit in. The BID has more work to do. It has to decide what boundaries are appropriate and then reach out and inform people,” Merker said.


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