By Rainier Harris
Queens Business Improvement Districts are mainstays of their communities, even decades after their establishment, providing services and amenities ranging from sanitation to festivals and beyond.
Business Improvement Districts, or BIDs, are “geographical area[s] where local stakeholders oversee and fund the maintenance, improvement and promotion of their commercial district,” according to the New York Small Business Services website, the agency that presides over the establishment and practices of each BID.
The primary function of these BIDs is to bolster the small businesses and property owners within the area using their own community investment.
According to the NYC BID Association, New York’s BID movement began in the 1960s and 1970s in response to “limited public resources and deteriorating commercial districts.” The onset of the BID movement coincides with the lead up to New York City’s near declaration of bankruptcy.
In 1976, New York City offered to provide the funding so long as local property owners would take responsibility to maintain them. The property owners complied and state legislation passed to form a Special Assessment District at Fulton Mall in Brooklyn.
In 1981 and 1982, legislation was passed on the state and city level to allow local property owners to self-determine their funding and maintain their commercial districts, now called BIDs.
In 1984, Con Edison collaborated with other local property owners in Union Square Park to form the first BID in the 14th Street-Union Square area, still in usage today. While the tasks BIDs undertake may have changed, their core principal remains the same: to drastically improve their commercial district.
There are currently 76 BIDs spread across all five boroughs, 13 of which are located in Queens. According to the NYC Small Business Services 2018 FY BID Report, of the $158.9 million invested annually in BIDs, $5.6 million — or .03 percent — is used by Queens. The $5.6 million is based on the Queens BIDs assessment values, determined by local stakeholders and property owners.
Once the assessment value is determined, the money is then allocated dollar by dollar back into the respective communities. Then the money is used for respective projects to be undertaken as well as salaries for BID managers. The money can be directed towards a wide variety of purposes from trash cleanup, to holiday lights, to organizing festivals, and graffiti removal.
There are three phases in order to form each BID. It is a long and extensive process to form a BID so the community must, before going through any phase, demonstrate a clear need and desire to form a BID. The definition of what constitutes a “clear need” is ambiguous and can be loosely defined by the BID itself. In the three phase process, potential BIDs are working towards becoming a reality.
In the first phase, Planning, BIDs formed what’s called a steering committee, a coalition of local stakeholders, who compile information on the needs of the community, define the BIDs boundaries, programs and services, annual budget and a draft assessment value.
In the second phase, Outreach, BIDs begin informing the public and building community support for the BID. This may involve gathering signatures by tenants and property owners in the community, sending mailings, and holding public meetings.
In the third phase, Legislative Approval, BIDs are reviewed, public hearings are held, recommendations and revisions are suggested, and everyone from the hyperlocal Community Board to the mayor and state comptroller vote on the BIDs formation. As is a long and arduous process, there are several hurdles BIDs must cross before being approved, which means not all BIDs will necessarily be accepted.
Queens BIDs Facts:
The Jamaica Center BID has the largest assessment value of any Queens BID at $917,500.
The 165th Street Mall BID is the oldest Queens BID having been established in July 1978.
The Downtown Flushing Transit Hub BID has the most number of ground floor retail businesses for Queens BIDs at 500.
The Long Island City Partnership BID 73 block faces, the most of any Queens BID.
There were 504,000 trash bags collected and 230 public events held by Queens BIDs, according to the New York Small Business Services 2018 Fiscal Year BID report
Highlights within Queens BIDs
Queens is home to 13 BIDs — with an additional one being planned in Maspeth. Queens BIDs, and the non-Manhattan BIDs in general, are comparatively smaller and are not garnering attention and funding as much as larger BIDs.
“The smaller BIDs are resource restrictive,” Executive Director of the Sutphin Boulevard BID Glenn Greenidge said in a phone interview. Greenidge believes the “smaller BIDs tend to get shortchanged.”
Currently, his passion project for the Sutphin Boulevard BID is to install new technology to track the movement of people throughout the Long Island Rail Road to identify potential shoppers to the district. Greenidge also wants to provide a technology directory to be able to highlight the businesses for commuters coming through. He plans to use geofencing data to achieve these goals.
“City agencies don’t seem to be very high on that as a priority for small businesses…[f]unding for that kind of work is very selective and very competitive,” Greenidge said.
There are 3,000-5,000 new units of hotels and apartments which bring an influx of new people into the district. Greenidge has made it a priority for small business to “capture millennials way of shopping,” since millenials will become a more prominent demographic with the new housing.
In the short-term, Greenidge is “working on [their] third annual harvest festival [on September 21] to bring some more [attention] to the district.”
The Jamaica Center BID is also looking into some new initiatives. Jennifer Furioli, Executive Director of the Jamaica Center BID, said in a phone interview they are reaching out to city councilmembers to see if they are interested in implementing more trees in the neighborhood. In addition, they plan on re-applying for the Department of Transportation’s Weekend Walks funding.
The Woodhaven BID, formed in 1993 to “complement, expand, and actively encourage the full retail and commercial development of Woodhaven's Jamaica Avenue into the new millennium, and beyond,” according to its website. As it says on its homepage, they are still “taking care of BIDness” decades later, “provid[ing] security, sanitation, and graffiti vandalism removal services within the WBID boundaries.”
The 180th Street BID has a sweeping list of programs and initiatives, including a $2 million reconstruction plan, providing tax incentives for small businesses in its Empire Zone Program, an expansive graffiti removal program, and a Computerized Neighborhood Environment Tracking system (ComNet) that reports street level conditions to the respective city agencies.
While Queens BIDs may be resource restrictive, they are still doing the best they can with what they have. Even the oldest of the BIDs are effectively shaping their districts and plan to do even more for decades more to come.