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SoHo BID's Supporters and Opponents Face off at City Council Hearing

By Andrea Swalec | November 20, 2012 8:36pm

CITY HALL — Supporters and opponents of a plan to create a business improvement district on Broadway between East Houston and Canal streets sounded off at a hearing held Tuesday by the City Council's finance committee, advancing the city's review of the proposal. 

Members of the SoHo BID formation committee said the BID would put a dent in the retail destination's towering trash piles, help control pedestrian traffic and reduce illegal vending.

"This BID can provide immediate relief from the success of SoHo's Broadway," said Barbara Cohen, a consultant to the BID formation committee.

The city Department of Small Business Services, which manages the city's relationship with BIDs, presented a $550,000 annual budget for the group, which would be funded by annual payments by property owners. 

About $200,000 of the budget would be devoted to sanitation services and snow removal. Another $200,000 would be spent on advocacy and administrative costs. And the remaining $150,000 would be devoted to pedestrian and public safety costs, like paying uniformed guards who would keep sidewalk traffic moving. 

But critics of the plan say the BID formation committee has ignored residents and small businesses, blocking them from participating in the planning process. 

Sean Sweeney, head of the community group the SoHo Alliance and a member of the SoHo No BID Committee, said a BID would hurt the small businesses with offices above street level on Broadway. 

"Why burden the struggling small businesses on the upper floors to benefit Giorgio Armani on the ground floor?" he said. 

The assessment paid by each commercial property owner would be determined by a formula that takes into account a property's value and its amount of front and side frontage. 

A property holder with 63 feet of frontage on Broadway, which an SBS representative used as an example, would pay more than $7,000 to the BID per year. 

Residential property holders would pay only $1 per year each, placing the burden on retailers with large storefronts. 

Sweeney and other members of the SoHo No BID Committee suggested an alternative to the BID: the formation of a dues-paying neighborhood district modeled on groups like the Meatpacking Improvement Association and NoHo-Bowery Stakeholders. 

"It works throughout Community Board 2 and it will work in SoHo," Sweeney said.

But Brian Steinwurtzel, chairman of the BID formation committee, argued that a BID would be more effective.

"We need consistent funding that stays in our neighborhood," he said. 

The City Council's finance committee will hold a second hearing on the BID, after which opponents to the plan will have 30 days to register objections with the City Clerk. 

If 51 percent of property owners in the area register opposition to the BID, regulations will prevent the city from creating one. If that does not occur, the BID proposal will go before the full City Council.