International Downtown Association Hosts World Congress
By Lore Croghan
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Welcome to B-K-L-Y-N. Let us show you a thing or two about urban revitalization.
Biz-development brains from Mayor Bloomberg to South Bronx poverty fighter Majora Carter gathered at the Pratt Institute Tuesday morning to share strategies and successes for building economically vibrant neighborhoods with participants of the International Downtown Association's World Congress and 59th Annual Meeting.
"This is one of my five favorite boroughs," quipped the Mayor, who noted that a big portion of the 400,000 jobs that have been created in New York City since the recession were generated in Brooklyn.
The city regained 300 percent of the jobs it lost during the downturn, while nationwide, 80 percent of jobs lost have been regained.
Bloomberg - who said though his term as mayor ends in 84 days, he plans to live in New York City for the rest of his life - spoke of how his administration "reinvented and reimagined" Times Square by creating pedestrian plazas.
He recalled when he first okayed the idea of closing Broadway to car traffic, his staff thought he needed "psychiatric help."
Now tourists are safer in the Crossroads of the World - they don't get hit by cars - and retail rents there have doubled since the recession.
He also touted the city's new bike-sharing stations. Though the media attacked the idea of the Citibike program, it is "off-the-chart successful," he said.
"Progress never comes easy; anything new is worrisome," he said.
The packed house at Pratt's Memorial Hall Auditorium gave him a standing ovation.
An estimated 800 participants spent the day in the borough of Kings, a spokeswoman said. For the first time ever, the IDA decided to hold its multi-day event out in the field instead of at a hotel, she said - and chose Brooklyn as the place to spend an entire day.
Afternoon sessions were held at venues in DUMBO, Fort Greene, Boerum Hill, Clinton Hill, Bedford-Stuyvesant and Greenpoint. Presenters included Brooklyn heavy hitters such as Downtown Brooklyn Partnership president Tucker Reed, Brooklyn Academy of Music president Karen Brooks Hopkins, Two Trees Management exec Dave Lombino and Atlantic Avenue Business Improvement District executive director Josef Szende. They shared the spotlight with urban experts from as far away as London and South Africa.
Offbeat entrepreneurs like the operators of the Brooklyn Grange, the urban farm on the roof of Building 3 at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, also had their time in the spotlight.
City Small Business Services Commissioner Rob Walsh told the crowd at the morning session that when Bloomberg offered him his job 12 ago, "I took it in a New York second."
Under Mayor Bloomberg, 20 new business improvement districts have been created outside Manhattan. There are now 67 BIDs citywide, with a 68th one just being launched in SoHo.
Under Walsh, the city Small Business Services Department has made a concerted effort to help BIDS with measures such as simplifying the formula for their creation and getting them grant money for worthy projects - a big help since many BIDS have annual budgets of less than $500,000.
"It has been a great journey for me," said Walsh - who told conference-goers their assignment for the day was to do one of five Brooklyn-centric things:
* Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.
* Visit Brooklyn Bridge Park.
* Eat a steak at Peter Luger's.
* Drink an egg cream at Tom's.
* Buy a hot dog at the original Nathan's in Coney Island.
The crowd ate it up.
The IDA, created in 1954, describes itself as an organization that "connects diverse practitioners who transform cities into healthy and vibrant urban places."