A BID For A Better Broadway

Within two years, Astorias Broadway will be a renowned shopping destination for people from all over Queens. It will be spotless, lined with beautiful plants, and its colorful banners and holiday lights will rival those of any street in the city.
That is the hope of the Central Astoria Local Development Coalition (CALDC) and the Broadway Merchants and Professionals Association, two groups that are spearheading the effort to make the strip of Broadway between Crescent and 47th Street a Business Improvement District (BID).
"At this point, we have taken baby steps," said Gus Kobleck, executive director of the CALDC, which recently held its first public meeting with the merchants association on the question of a BID.
There are currently 44 BIDs around the city, with at least half a dozen in Queens and another half-dozen under discussion in other parts of the borough. BIDs require all businesses within a certain area to pay an annual fee for communal improvements such as extra street cleaning, holiday lights, plants, banners, marketing of the shopping area and even private security.
Kobleck said that nearby BIDs on Steinway Street in Astoria and 82nd Street in Jackson Heights have filled in the gaps left by traditional merchants associations, which rely on voluntary dues from some businesses in a given area.
"There is no department of marketing for the city," said Kobleck, explaining the need for permanent arrangements between business owners to collectively promote themselves.
Currently, members of the merchants association pay a voluntary fee of about $100 a year, which covers the cost of holiday lights, a Christmas tree lighting, and donations of awards to the local police precinct.
The proposed BID would have a budget of $150,000 and would be funded by charging property owners $20 per foot of storefront. A building owner with a 20-foot storefront would be charged $400 a year for the entire range of BID services. In most cases, the cost would be passed on to the tenant of the store.
A survey asking local business owners what services they would like to see included in the BID has been drafted and will be sent in September. Kobleck expected a formal vote on the BID by certified mail in about a year to a year and a half.
The BID will pass unless 51% of property owners vote against it. The percentage is calculated in terms of total property value, not the individual number of owners who vote. By that formula, a large number of small stores would have to oppose the BID in order to out-vote larger retailers.
Kobleck was optimistic that the BID would pass. "The momentum is there," he said. "There was no one at the meeting that expressed opposition. There were a lot of questions, but I cant say that I know of anyone who has shown opposition at this stage."
Conversations with business owners in the proposed BID area revealed a mixed picture of support. Syed Naqvi, owner of Norwood Rexall Drugs, thought it was a good idea. "If there is a combined effort, things will be clean and neat," said Naqvi.
Michael Pandya, owner of the All Seasons Card and Gift bodega, shook his head vigorously when asked if he was prepared to shell out money for a BID. "No, I cant do that," he said as he rang up a customer. "Im dying here with this price increase for cigarettes. We can do our own cleaning."
John McLoughlin, owner of McLoughlins pub near the busy intersection of Broadway and 31st Street, responded to the BID question with a flat "no."
"The volume is not there," said McLoughlin of the decline in patrons he has seen. "People arent working. And the landlords here are going crazy," he said, referring to rents he believes are already too high.
Chun Kim, owner of Lukes Photo, struck a middle ground. "Twenty dollars per foot [of storefront] isnt bad," he said. "I used to pay a little bit to the merchants association, but business got slow so I stopped."
Kim said that even though his business has dropped significantly since September 11, he would give the BID some thought. "If everybody pays, Ill pay," he added.
Some major business owners such as Prabir Mitra, owner of several Dunkin Donuts stores, are strong advocates of the BID. "If everybody pays more, people will get better improvement and people will spend their money here," said Mitra, who owns stores in BIDs on Steinway Street and Myrtle Avenue in addition to one on Broadway.
"Everything is on the positive side," he said of the BID idea.
Said Kobleck, "Anybody that is not supportive of us, we would want to hear from them so that we can discuss their issues."