The gears of government turn at a glacial pace, as a Manhattan College official has learned.
Last year, Rob Walsh approached the Kingsbridge Business Improvement District board with an idea: Extend its boundaries two blocks north to cover West 238th Street and Broadway. More of the area could benefit from the BID’s daily trash pickup and cleaning, beautification and small business development services.
Walsh served 12 years as the city’s small business services commissioner, but is now senior advisor to Manhattan College president Brennan O’Donnell. He pointed to the college’s new engineering school going up a few yards away from the intersection as a primary reason to earn BID coverage. Restaurants could do a lot of business with hungry students, he added, if only the area looked a little nicer.
The Kingsbridge board listened, and actually think it’s a good idea. In fact, they’re exploring extending the district not only north, but east on West 231st Street all the way to Bailey Avenue, according to Kingsbridge BID president Andrew Williams.
To make it happen, however, involves a lengthy process and a mountain of paperwork.
“This doesn’t happen overnight,” Williams said. “It could take two years. We have to get in touch with every property owner from 236th to 238th on both sides and they have to support coming into the BID.”
Last month, Walsh took to his small business news segment on 1010 WINS to call out the Kingsbridge BID, saying it refuses to extend its boundaries.
“The request to extend the boundaries was made a year ago and no action was taken,” Walsh said. “The Kingsbridge BID hasn’t even attempted to explore extending the boundaries. The time is up.”
This was news to Williams and the local BID’s executive director Katherine Broihier. After Walsh approached the BID board, members began exploring the idea by contacting the property owners along the corridor to gauge their interest. Not all are easy to contact, and most need some convincing to get on board.
BIDs are created by city legislation and assess mandatory fees from property and business owners within the district. To begin or expand a BID, a group of neighborhood businesses assess their needs and how a BID could help. Most BIDs provide beautification, sanitation and marketing for members, but services can include security, events and business consultation, to name a few.
The steering committee builds community support for the BID, particularly among the commercial properties and the elected officials who shepherd the measure through the legislative process.
The Kingsbridge BID’s aim is promote the small stores and make the area more attractive within its boundaries from West 230th to West 236th streets along Broadway, and west on West 231st to Corlear Avenue.
“Really what our BID does is focus on a shopping district where there’s a lot of little mom-and-pop stores with a chain store thrown in here and there,” Broihier said. “That’s where our focus is, to help these businesses make the neighborhood look better.”
Chains have the advantage of name recognition and a corporate marketing team. A number of national chains may use the sanitation the BID provides, but not the marketing or development services. The emphasis, she said, should be helping small stores remain competitive with their ubiquitous big box counterparts. The BID should also offer a range of services everyone in the district can use, not just a select few.
The district’s board must also be sensitive to the additional cost to small, struggling businesses, Broihier said. BID fees aren’t voluntary. They’re levied like a tax by the city.
To expand a BID, it needs support of 75 percent of the property owners. That can be tricky in a small area, she said, especially if a few people own several lots.
“We’re doing outreach to the property owners,” Broihier said. “We’re trying to get ideas and their thoughts on it, and if we should meet with any of them to at least talk about it some more.
“It’s just not easy, because you’re telling them it’s going to cost them money. And not that it’s huge, but some people will pay a large amount while others will pay very little because they’re so tiny.”
Once all the feedback is collected, Broihier brings it to the full board where they will decide whether to expand. The process, she said, can take two years.
That’s not fast enough for Walsh, who told The Riverdale Press that, in his experience creating and running BIDs, it doesn’t take this long.
It’s only two blocks and the area needs attention now, he said. Getting a jump start on cleaning up the area and aiding businesses would be nice before Manhattan College’s engineering school opens next spring.
“To me, it seems like there are more excuses than there are possibilities,” Walsh said. “The businesses, the business owners, they work extremely hard. They need a champion. They need someone to keep this place clean, keep it safe.”