New York's Shadow Mayors: The BIDs That Ate New York

Most credit the revival of the BID movement to a single brilliant appointment nearly 10 years ago: Robert Walsh, the former president of the Union Square Partnership, who took over as head of the Department of Small Business Services. Mr. Walsh replies that the mayor has been enthusiastic from the beginning, good-naturedly encouraging him to form more BIDs even where they’d previously failed: “The first conversation I had with him, in January of 2002, he ended up talking about Fordham and why isn’t there a BID on Fordham Road,” Mr. Walsh recalled of the area in the Bronx. “That’s one of the BIDs that we’ve been able to create.”

Mr. Walsh cites numerous neighborhoods where more BIDs could go: 116th Street near Columbia; Broadway and 168th Street near Columbia Presbyterian; Staten Island; numerous neighborhoods of the Bronx, such as Woodlawn; his own Brooklyn haunt of Carroll Gardens; everywhere!

Somewhat paradoxically, as their number and influence have ballooned, BIDs have faded from the public mind since the days when Messrs. Biederman and Giuliani sparred in the dailies. Their boards are dotted with names like Viacom, Disney, Grand Hyatt, Time Equities, Boston Properties and Tishman Speyer, but the people running them are usually longtime municipal hands with pragmatic-one could say modest (tulips! Benches! Slightly less graffiti!)-goals. The city’s largest BID, the Downtown Alliance, is headed by Liz Berger, a lawyer by training who served as a City Council liaison under the Koch administration. She commands a budget of $17 million to pay for a 58-member sanitation team and a 59-member red-coated security force.

The Grand Central Partnership, which encompasses some of the most valuable commercial property in the world (think midtown’s top-shelf skyscrapers), is overseen by Alfred C. Cerullo III, who has occupied the post since 1999 and also serves on the City Planning Commission. His current priority? “Spring is here and snow is going to be falling in the next 24 hours,” he said, fretting this would make it difficult to plant thousands of flowers. After 32 years in the BID trade, Daniel Biederman continues to head the 34th Street and Bryant Park fiefdoms-though he recently ran into trouble over an alleged $120,000 gift to a Bronx skating rink out of the 34th Street Partnership’s coffers.

They’re now being followed by up-and-comers like the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership’s Joseph Chan, Hudson Square Connection’s Ellen Baer, and Brigit Pinnell, who recently moved from the Jamaica Center BID in Queens to the Montague Street one in Brooklyn Heights.

 

STILL, NOT EVERYONE’S ke
en on the increasing privatization of the neighborhood watch.

Longtime Soho residents gathered last Tuesday in the basement of St. Anthony’s Church at 154 Sullivan Street and heckled Brian Steinwurtzel, of the major real estate company Newmark Knight Frank, and a consultant, Barbara Cohen. They were proposing-what else-a BID representing streets from East Houston to Canal on lower Broadway, one that would have an annual budget of $700,000. “Do you live here?” one person at the meeting shouted (many of the opponents, mind you, didn’t live on Broadway, either).

Eighty percent of local business owners favor the BID, according to a vote, and so does the City Planning Commission. Margaret Chin, the local councilwoman, doesn’t support it in its current form, but no matter: The owners are likely to get the support they need from the administration and the City Council. They will likely soon become the 66th BID (right behind Chinatown).

In the minds of die-hard Soho residents, the kind routinely freaked out by gentrification, it amounts to a garbage-collection coup by powerful landlords. But the alternative could be a Naples-like trash disaster in summer’s dog days.

“How many times a day would the city be able to empty a trash can, or be so detailed to remove that graffiti off a post?” Mr. Walsh said of BIDs in general. “In a perfect world, BIDs wouldn’t exist.”

lkusisto@observer.com