To BID Or Not To BID – QNS.com

To BID Or Not To BID

The Austin St. shopping district is about to become the newest arena for the age-old conflict of interest between larger businesses and traditional mom-and-pop family enterprises.
A steering committee made up mostly of landlords on the street has formed to begin the process of creating a Business Improvement District (BID) on the thoroughfare.
A BID program, once the community and the City government approve it, allows property owners within the designated BID boundaries to tax themselves and use the money to make capital improvements and increase services.
Austin St. BID proponents composed primarily of large property owners say that the organizations benefit local business communities by beautifying commercial strips and making them more attractive to consumers. Additionally, BIDs have been very successful in lobbying City agencies for improved services and City-funded capital projects.
However, some small business owners worry that their landlords BID tax assessment costs will be passed on to them in the form of higher rents, and that the increases will force them off the street.
"It seems to me that all the BID does is improve the value of property in the area, and the businesses end up paying for it," said George Scott, the owner of Sergeant Garcias restaurant on Austin St. "There are still a lot of individually owned stores, and these are the kind of costs they cant afford." Scott has owned his restaurant for 14 years, but he rents his space.
"The mom-and-pops put their blood, sweat and tears into this, and I dont want to see them lose," said Leslie Brown, president of the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce and the owner of Kidlines childrens clothing store on Austin St. She added that as Chamber president, she wanted what was best for the community and was trying very hard to stay neutral.
Brown said she worried that the BID would squeeze out small businesses, opening the way for more chain stores, which could afford higher rents, to move in. Some chains like Gap, Victorias Secret and Barnes and Noble have already moved to Austin St. "Small businesses built this community. Thats what made the chain stores want to come here in the first place," Brown said. "I feel very strongly that whats going to bring people here is not chain stores they can find in any mall. What put Forest Hills on the map was its unique upscale boutiques."
"Its a capitalist world," said Heskel Elias, a major property owner on Austin St., adding that if small businesses fail after the BID comes in, people shouldnt necessarily blame the program. "If theyre not selling what the people are looking for, they wont succeed."
Elias said he was aware that small businesses might be adversely affected, but that the area needed the services the BID would bring. "If [the small businesses] had been paying to keep up the sidewalks the way they should this wouldnt be happening," he added.
Joel Mandel of JSM Management, a property owner on the street, said that he and a group of about 50 other business owners had spent thousands in recent years to pay for Doe Fund workers to clean Austin St.s sidewalks. Mandel is the person who seeks out the contributions for the Doe Fund clean-ups. "I can only do it for so long," he said. "We need to create a mechanism [like the BID] to fund it permanently."
Currently, there are 44 BIDs operating in the City, including seven in Queens. Ted Renz, who oversees the Myrtle Ave. BIDwhich stretches from Wyckoff Ave. to Fresh Pond Rd.called his organization a success. "The BID tax directly benefits the merchant," he said, adding that funds from the BID had paid for additional street cleaning, holiday decorations and capital improvements. "There are businesses where the landlord passed [the BID tax] on, but the BID helps them, too." Renz said that to his knowledge, no Myrtle Ave. businesses had closed as a direct result of the BID.
"There are many BIDs all over the City that work," Robert Walsh, the commissioner of the City Dept. of Business Services, which oversees the 44 BIDs in the five boroughs."The majority of them are small and main-street oriented."
Walsh urged the Austin St. community to talk to other communities with successful BIDS. "Give it a shot. Listen to whats being proposed. Dont shoot it down because of fear," he said.

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