Business improvement districts have helped transform some of New York’s great public spaces, like Grand Central Terminal, Union Square and Bryant Park. The Bloomberg administration has proposed formation of a new BID, a private organization that augments public services through special levies on businesses, for the spectacularly successful High Line park on the West Side.
There’s just one wrinkle: City Hall wants the proposed BID to tax local residents as well as businesses within the district’s boundaries. While other BIDs have the power to tax residents, they generally don’t.
City Hall’s plan is a necessary but hopefully temporary evil. The High Line park is drawing thousands more visitors than anybody expected. While that’s wonderful, it means additional expenses for security, clean-up and other services.
The BID proposal cannot proceed without the approval of business owners and residents in the affected area. City Council approval also is necessary. There has been some grumbling from the West Side about residential taxes, which would amount to about $100 a year for many residents.
Their complaint is understandable, but their burden will be small, and perhaps temporary. The success of the High Line means that there are opportunities for private concessions, perhaps a restaurant at the south end of the park. While purists might object, it’s a simple fact that private concessions, smartly done, will help ease the financial burden on property owners within the BID area.
Everybody wants the park to succeed. Merchants, residents and council members should examine the big picture and move ahead with the BID. Once it’s up and running, the High Line BID should find a way to capitalize on the park’s popularity to keep it secure, clean and accessible.
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