Features

High BIDs

"High BIDs" Continued...

Issue: "Profiles in effective compassion," April 24, 2010

MIT researcher Lorlene M. Hoyt found that BIDs have lower property crime rates and that the effect spills over to areas outside the district. Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy found that BIDs (large BIDs especially) have a positive impact on property values, with commercial property values increasing more rapidly than comparable properties outside the BID. With a bustling retail strip free of vacancies, people feel safer and come out to shop more, which brings more business and increases property values.

So the BID staff scours Brooklyn for retailers who might want to open a second branch in a newly thriving neighborhood, and it helps current merchants stay where they are. Even with the economic downturn, the district's retail vacancies dropped from 12 percent to 8 percent in the last fiscal year, with 11 new small businesses opening to the nine businesses closing.

As we walk down the street, Backer notes that Anima Italian Bistro was once a semi-abandoned real estate shop. Across the street is Maggie Brown, one of the area's first nice sit-down restaurants. It turned an empty building into an elegant bar with black-and-gold brocade wallpaper, hung with old-­fashioned daguerreotypes. Down the street from Maggie Brown, the BID recruited a first-time entrepreneur to open a health food store in a once boarded-up building. On one block, three of the six tenants are recent.

Paul Levy, president and CEO of the Center City District in Philadelphia, said BIDs are redoubling their efforts to support and keep businesses during the recession. At a November meeting of 10 city BID leaders, they found that downtown BID areas that are more walkable and less transit-oriented have fewer office vacancies than car-dependent suburban areas. "Less bad is the new good," he quips, adding that BIDs seem to be holding the line.

Among New Yorkers, there is an apprehension that New York City could slip back into the days of crime and blight. The homicide rate has risen 20 percent so far this year, as the city cuts its police force back to the size it was in the 1990s. Jerome Barth, director of operations for the Bryant Park Corporation, cautions, "It would be very easy to slip back, in fact, to the old days."

"There's no such thing as the good old days. It's a myth," he said. "The good old days are now, when New York is safe and pleasant," when "Murder Avenue" has lost its nickname, and when Bryant Park's big challenge is an antiseptic smell.

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