Chamber of Commerce is key player in efforts to form BIDs

The Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce is flexing its muscles by becoming the primary backer in efforts in two different neighborhoods to form business improvement districts.

“BIDs are good things,” Carlo Scissura, president and CEO of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce (BCC) told the Dyker Heights Civic Association at its meeting Monday night.

The BCC is supporting an effort by the 13th Avenue Merchants Association to establish a BID on that avenue. Under the plan, the BID would cover 13th Avenue from 64th Street to 86th Street and would operate on an annual budget of $248,000.

The other BID effort is going on in Park Slope, where, as the Brooklyn Eagle reported, Scissura and the BCC are providing advisers, manpower and legwork to the Seventh Avenue BID Steering Committee to create a BID on the avenue that would run from St. John's Place to 16th Street.

The BID’s annual budget would be $300,000, according to the steering committee’s website.

The Park Slope BID effort is moving along well, according to Scissura, who noted that survey sheets, a required first step, were sent out to all property owners, merchants and residents along Seventh Avenue last year. The replies that came back were positive, Scissura said.

The city requires that a BID sponsor demonstrate a community’s willingness to have a BID. Recipients are asked to fill out survey forms to state their support or opposition to a BID.

A business improvement district is a public-private partnership in which property owners in a particular commercial area agree to pay an added assessment on their city real estate taxes in order to pay for improvements to the area. The tax money is collected by the city and then returned to the BID. There are more than 65 BIDs in New York City.

BIDs are established only if the property owners in the proposed zone agree to it. Under city law, at least 51 percent of property owners have to vote in favor of a BID in order for one to be approved. It makes sense to seek their approval, Scissura said, since they're the ones footing the bill.

The final say is up to the City Council, which must pass legislation to create a BID. The city’s Department of Small Business Services oversees BID operations.

Once a BID is up and running, its budget cannot be increased or decreased without council legislation.

Dominick Sarta, co-president of the 13th Avenue Merchants Association, said his members are comfortable with the proposal for an annual operating budget of $248,000, even though that total is on the low end of the scale as compared to other BIDs around the city. Some of the larger BIDs, like the one in Times Square, operate with budgets that are over $1 million. "We won't have the expenses larger BIDs have," Sarta said. Scissura said the small budget mean ensure a lean operation. For example, the district manager, the person hired by the BID's board of directors to oversee the BID's day to day operations, will be a part-timer, he said.

In Dyker Heights, the process to create a BID only recently got under way. Survey forms are just being distributed out. Sarta brought survey forms with him to the civic association meeting. “They need feedback,” Civic Association President Fran Vella-Marrone told her members, urging them to take the forms, fill them out, and send them back.

The BCC is leading the BID efforts because it believes BIDs can improve a community by upgrading the local shopping strip, according to Scissura. If a shopping strip is healthy, it can lift up the entire neighborhood, he said. A vibrant local commercial zone is also a good source of jobs for neighborhood residents, he said.

“The BID supplements services. There are things a BID can do to create a nice avenue,” he told the Dyker Heights Civic Association.

Those services might include private sanitation sweeps, private security patrols, the installation of decorative streetlights during the holiday shopping season, and wide scale business promotions to draw shoppers into stores.

Sarta said his members believe a BID would have more influence with the city than a volunteer business group does. The city is more willing to do major projects in a BID, he said.

“As a merchants association, it get s little tougher to get things done. It is tough to raise money,” he said, describing the difficulty in raising funds to host events like Easter egg hunts and other community activities the association enjoys putting on.

The BCC is working closely with elected officials in both Dyker Heights and Park Slope to make the BIDs a reality. Councilman Vincent Gentile, who represents Dyker Heights, and Park Slope Councilman Brad Lander are key players since they would have to carry the legislation through the council.

Lander has been working with not-for-profit and civic associations, including both the Park Slope Civic Association and Park Slope Chamber of Commerce, for months on the Seventh Avenue BID project.

"The Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce and the Seventh Avenue BID Steering Committee are the right team to make a cleaner, greener and safer Seventh Avenue," Lander said.

Business and civic leaders in Park Slope said they would welcome a BID.

"We are looking forward to partnering with the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce in advancing the BID Steering Committee initiative to enhance and beautify the 7th Avenue corridor," said Mitchell Szpicek, vice president of the Park Slope Chamber of Commerce.