UPDATE: June 22 – NoHo BID removes unwanted banners.
Around June 1st, the NOHO BID hoisted banners throughout NoHo from Broadway to Bowery, half of them outside the BID area.
How did an entire neighborhood suddenly, become a Business Improvement District ?
As the images above depict, half of the NOHO BID’s banners have been placed, illegally, in areas of our neighborhood that are NOT covered by the BID. Most of them cluttering views of Landmarked buildings, many of them placed on historic lamposts and some of them blocking the street-name signs. But this is not the only imposition the NoHo Business Improvement District has perpetrated.
We registered a complaint with the Dept of Transportation on May 26th. At that time the rules regarding placement of banners specifically prohibited BID Banner placements outside of a BID area. We note that the regulations have since been amended, though we are unclear as to why or what legislation would permit the change. Here are new regulations for street banners, which still specifically state: (1) Banners shall contain no advertisements. The trade name or logo of the sponsor of the event (if applicable) shall occupy no more than 10% of the lower portion of the banner and (2) Permits granted to Business Improvement Districts may remain effective for up to 90 days and may be renewed at the discretion of the Commissioner. The language regarding permissible installment area has been removed.
We recently sat down with Seth Taylor, the new Director, of the NOHO Business Improvement District and formerly Director of the 82nd St. Partnership in Queens, to ask why their new website was representing the entire area of Astor Place to Houston and Bowery to Mercer as BID territory on their banners, on their new website and in social media; why were they soliciting businesses outside of the BID for sponsorships of their website, banners and agenda? The reply was that the BID intended to be the voice of the neighborhood ! And, there-in lies the rub.
NoHo-Bowery Stakeholders, Inc (NBS – a registered nonprofit) has long-opposed the expansion of the NoHo Businness Improvement District. NBS covers all of NoHo and the western edge of The Bowery and has a voluntary membership. In fact, if there is a single common reason for joining NBS it is the opposition of 350 members and 1,000,000 sq. ft. of NoHo properties to inclusion in a Business Improvement District. The imposition of a City tax assessment is not the only reason; stakeholders from Lafayette to Bowery prefer the profile of a blended neighborhood of interests – from developers to rent-stabilized tenants to small business owners, from Broadway to the Eastern side of Bowery. In fact many NBS members along Broadway are also in agreement.
In the course of our conversation with Mr. Taylor it became more and more obvious that the major obstacle for the NoHo Business Improvement District (BID), in general, was that the Non-BID area of NoHo was way-more interesting as a destination than the NoHo BID’s core area (see the map). Generic stores selling sneakers, drugs & cosmetics, candy, cheap trendy clothing, fast-food, chain-store shoes, pet supplies and electronics, does not a winnable destination make. Their only winnable destination profile is to be found in NoHo east of Lafayette and along the Bowery. That’s where one finds designers of fashion, interior furnishings, notable restaurants, performance art, small businesses, artisans, nonprofits. To the Board of the NoHo BID this is a strength worth having but one they are endemically unable to claim. As the City struggles to preserve small business, BID’s are actually their biggest enemy and ultimately the least successful initiative. BID’s tend to escalate retail lease costs that only box stores and retail chain stores can afford; the additional tax assessment amounts to yet another City imposed fee small businesses can’t afford.
While there may be areas of New York City where a Business Improvement District could make sense, there are as many neighborhoods that would be better served without them. The much contested SoHo Bid (on Broadway from Houston to Canal St.) is employing similar unwelcome tactics in representing areas outside of the BID boundaries as their own.
Though some members of a Business Improvement District appreciate the street cleaning services and marginal security services, what they are really buying into is special access to City administration. BID’s are overseen by the Department of Small Business Services. Few of these BID’s are small and all have budgets in excess of $500,000/ yr., the majority over $1,000,000. As a result of the City’s special assistance, they enjoy heightened access to the City Council, the Borough President’s office, Community Boards and City agencies as the Dept of Transportation. Such access is not insignificant, but it does, unfairly, stack the deck when neighborhood organizations and stakeholders with significant voluntary membership wish to express their concerns and issues. Of the 21 members of the NoHo BID’s board there are only two who are residents; the majority are Class A property owners and the remaining City officials. We would be well-served by reading an article from the Gothamist, which not only presents the advantages and disadvantages of a Business Improvement District, but also details Mr. Taylor’s modus operandi.
In our opinion, Community Benefit Districts are a far-superior construct. Their structure is all-inclusive. The more formal CBD’s are supported by a municipal tax assesment, though more economically feasible and more evenly applied. Each constituency has a vote. Negotiation and consensus is vetted and voted. City budgets for a wider variety of improvements are applied and overseen by the CBD boards truly representative of the district. The health – economic, aesthetic, practical – for business and residential stakeholders is more democratically applied.
The unwarranted and unwanted invasion of the neighborhood of NoHo by the NoHo Business Improvement District should, as a matter of principle, be challenged. Again, you can express your opinion.