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Boosting Barclays? Downtown Brooklyn Partnership proposes BID to encompass arena, malls, cultural district, extending to Prospect Heights; Council approval sought this year

Current DBP Downtown Brooklyn map;
Atlantic Yards site begins at bottom right
Maybe it'll be called the Barclays-BAM-Area Business Improvement District (BID). Or the Flatlantic to Vanderbilt BID.

Whatever its name, the new BID proposed yesterday by the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership (DBP), the nonprofit organization that already manages three BIDs, would represent a radical expansion of the Downtown Brooklyn's boundaries, to Vanderbilt Avenue in Prospect Heights, well beyond even the DBP's current map.

The BID, which would tax commercial property owners to fund additional services like sanitation and security, seems in part geared to help the largest landowner, Forest City Ratner, cope with the impact of properties like the Barclays Center arena and the Atlantic Terminal/Atlantic Center malls.

Forest City could wind up spending more than it currently does but at the same time see the costs spread more broadly, all under the umbrella of a non-public agency. That BID also could take responsibility for planning and advocacy issues that activists believe should be the realm of a AY-specific governance entity.

Proposed BID Boundaries = dotted red line;
this map was not released yesterday
The BID could confirm Forest City Ratner 's campaign to call the entire Atlantic Yards site part of Downtown Brooklyn, though the project site is not located within the area that the city rezoned. And it would back Borough President Marty Markowitz's wobbly claim that Atlantic Yards is in a "business district."

(Current DPB map above left, proposed BID boundaries at right, stretching from Flatbush Avenue and Fulton Street at the northwest to Vanderbilt Avenue and Dean Streets at the southeast. Larger versions of the maps are further below.)

BIDs: popular but controversial

BIDs are popular but controversial. They're credited for providing additional services beyond those available from city agencies, but criticized for bypassing public oversight and concentrating power.

New York City has 67 BIDs, the most in the country, with significant numbers in west-central Brooklyn and affluent residential and business districts in Manhattan.

As the map above right indicates, the proposed BID would fill the gap between the FAB Alliance on Fulton Street and the North Flatbush BID, and nudging up against four BIDs to the west of Flatbush Avenue, three controlled by the DBP.

The proposed boundaries would encompass the entire Atlantic Yards site, even the "carve-out" along Dean Street, thus including residential properties on Dean--destined as the site for a tower, with retail at base--that have not yet been taken by eminent domain.

Broad boundaries, tasks

The yet-unnamed BID has broad ambitions and boundaries, according to the press release (bottom):
The service area could include Barclays Center, Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), the Cultural District and commercial blocks on Flatbush, Atlantic and Vanderbilt Avenues. Property owners in the district would self-assess an additional property tax to fund services including sanitation, extra security, streetscape improvements and maintenance, programming as well as promotion and marketing opportunities. The BID also would facilitate economic development, urban planning and advocacy efforts for neighborhood services.
The boundaries also include the 470 Vanderbilt building, where new development and retail are planned, as well as development sites near BAM that should have retail and/or cultural facilities at the base.

Creation of the BID will require public hearings and approvals by Community Boards 2, 6 and 8, City Planning Commission and City Council. The review and approval process "is expected to be completed by the end of 2013," before two backers, Borough President Marty Markowitz and Mayor Mike Bloomberg, leave office.

Asked to comment, Council Member Letitia James, a backer of the controversial Fulton Street BID, said she "generally supports" BIDs. She has a representative on the BID steering committee.

Rob Perris, District Manager of Community Board 2, said he was cautiously optimistic: "I'm pleased to hear someone from [Forest City] saying, 'we've got some responsibilities, and we need a mechanism to deal with them.'"

When queried, Forest City deferred to the press release (bottom), which noted that a "steering committee comprised of representatives of local stakeholders – including 'mom & pop' retailers, cultural institutions, commercial property owners and government officials – has been formed to spearhead this effort" and will be surveyed about BID services.

Still, Forest City likely would be the BID heavyweight. According to state law, voting with a BID can be "weighted in proportion to the assessment" on properties, though no one member can have more than one-third of the vote.

Pending questions

One issue to be resolved: the overlap with the North Flatbush BID, which has previously encompassed properties going north from Dean and Flatbush up to Atlantic Avenue.

Also, though the map does not include most of Dean Street between Sixth and Vanderbilt avenues, presumably Forest City would be concerned about sidewalk safety, especially snow removal, for those walking from the arena to the parking lot.

While the BID's impact would likely be most obvious in terms of additional sanitation and security, its role in larger issues, like urban planning and economic development, could give the DBP particular weight in Prospect Heights and Fort Greene, beyond its historic boundaries.

And that could influence or even substitute for the proposals made for a new governance entity, or to channel public input, regarding Atlantic Yards.

Forest City likely would be the largest individual contributor to the BID. At the same time, a broad assessment might not only increase the amount of funding for services like arena-related security and sanitation, it also could help fund pedestrian traffic managers, who have been key to managing traffic flow around the arena--and which Forest City had not promised to fund in perpetuity.

Note that, according to the city's guide to BID creation, "There should be few government and other tax-exempt property owners, since they are generally exempt from any BID assessment." The arena is tax-exempt and officially government-owned (though leased back to Forest City for a buck), but surely in this case would be part of a BID assessment.

The DBP and BIDs

Current BID boundaries
The DBP, founded in 2006 with $2 million a year for three years from the mayor's office, was set up to manage the Downtown Brooklyn rezoning, as chronicled in the new documentary film My Brooklyn.

But the DBP saw that funding cut significantly, leading to what Crain's called a "long-envisioned takeover of three local business-improvement districts and their reliable revenue streams."

While in the summer of 2010 saw the takeover of the MetroTech BID stalled, it proceeded in August 2011 thanks in part to what the New York Post called "pressure from City Hall and developer Forest City Ratner, which built Metro Tech’s office complex in the 1980s." The DBP since then has also been credited for improving retail storefronts.

According to the MetroTech BID web site, Forest City has the largest contingent of board members, though the list clearly has not been updated; it includes two executives, Scott Cantone and Bruce Bender, who left the company last year.

In May 2011, an audit from the Comptroller's office criticized the DBP for inadequate internal controls, such as the failure to properly record private contributions; the DBP agreed to reform procedures.

Map: preliminary boundaries

The preliminary boundaries of the BID were included in a document sent to stakeholders--which I obtained--but not included with yesterday's press release. Whether the boundaries are refined or not, presumably a map will be released for discussion before public hearings.

(The only other coverage of the new BID so far is a brief article in the New York Post's Brooklyn blog and a longer one on GlobeSt., both based on the press release.)

Distributed to potential stakeholders, shows existing area BIDs

Map: Downtown Brooklyn
From the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership web site
The debate over BIDs

According to this October 2006 Gotham Gazette article, "Supporters hail business improvement districts as an effective way to clean up a neighborhood, reduce crime and vacancy rates, and generally improve the community, all at no cost to the city." BIDs also lead to reductions in vacancy rates.

Detractors, including Columbia professor Moshe Adler, call BIDs undemocratic (weighted towards property owners), say they pay workers unfair wages, take on debt, and may not even have appropriate support.

As noted in this 2002 Cornell University analysis, regarding economic development:
  • Pro: BIDs have the ability to revitalize deteriorating urban areas.
  • Pro: Under the proper environmental conditions and organizational structures, BIDs are useful tools in attracting new business and investment.
  • Con: BID programs for economic development do not address urban blight - they displace undesirable groups and business activities to neighboring districts.
Regarding targeting public investment:
  • Pro: The additional services provided are justified because BIDs pay directly for these services.
  • Pro: BIDs may be effective in reducing the unequal distribution of public services [especially between city and suburb]
  • Con: BIDs may exacerbate the uneven distribution of public services [especially within the city]
  • Con: The ability of BIDs to borrow may crowd out investment in other areas of a city.
Regarding management of public space:
  • Pro: BIDs may increase democratic voice by enhancing the vitality and sustainability of public space
  • Con: BIDs privatize public space by excluding those that detract from the commercial goals of the BID members.
Regarding democratic accountability:
  • Pro: A BID's approval process can be structured to ensure accountability.
  • Pro: Monitoring policies can be formed to ensure accountability.
  • Con: A BID's influence within a district may co-opt local government authority.
  • Con: BIDs are sometimes realized due to lack of informed opposition rather than majority approval.
  • Con: A BID's voting structure may violate the constitutional principle of one-person, one-vote by favoring property owners over residents.

Downtown Brooklyn Partnership BID Press Release

Comments

  1. Anonymous3:23 PM

    Norman. As a resident of the area, I would like to thank you for continuing to report and analyze important issues such as the proposed BID. Your article raises some interesting questions. In particular, the funding source for the BID, and control of the BID. Most of the structures in the proposed BID would be exempt from dues, or pay minimal dues (residential buildings, government buildings, non-profit/cultural buildings, and apparently the Barclays Center). While I would be glad to see a BID cleanup the area, the residents living in the area have had mixed experiences with the Downtown Brooklyn Parternship. The Downtown Brooklyn Partnership seems to have an agenda for the BAM Cultural District that is not in sync with its cultural and residential characteristics. For example, last Fall the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership sponsored a weekday rap concert in a parking lot between 4 residential buildings that ran until 11PM. The Partnership didn't seem to recognize that there were several hundred residents that had to go to attend work or school the following morning. That incident seemed to indicate the need to have more resident participation and oversight over the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership. This is particulary so since they will be managing the city owned public space at the Two Trees residential tower being planned for the lot at Flatbush/Lafayette/Ashland.

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