LOWER EAST SIDE — Tim Laughlin took over the Lower East Side Business Improvement District just three months ago — and he's already planning an overhaul of the neighborhood's online and street-level look.
Laughlin, who became the BID's executive director when Bob Zuckerman stepped down in October, wants to help merchants upgrade their window displays and hopes to use public art to beautify the neighborhood. He also plans to improve the organization's website to highlight local businesses.
"What we are trying to do is get people to come to the neighborhood and stay in it and explore both shops and destinations on the Lower East Side," said Laughlin, 31, who served as a community liaison for City Councilman Daniel Garodnick before joining the BID four years as its director of policy, planning and operations.
One of Laughlin's first projects is a grant program that would help Lower East Side businesses get a fresh look.
"A legacy merchant might want to revamp their storefront to appeal to folks walking by," Laughlin said of the program, which he hopes to launch by the summer. "What we want to do is have a grant program, bring in a consultant that will work with that business."
Laughlin will also focus on expanding the BID's public art program and improving the design of the neighborhood's main shopping corridor on Orchard Street.
"It is very clear that we need to make space for people to enjoy being outside," said Laughlin, who is also a Community Board 3 member.
The BID has $60,000 from City Councilwoman Margaret Chin to fund Orchard Street upgrades, including 40 new trees, additional street furniture and safety and traffic flow improvements.
"We would like to use Orchard Street as a model for how the smaller streets, the community and the communities around us can really operate," Laughlin said.
He said the BID will be seeking comments from residents and business owners in February on the proposed changes to Orchard Street.
The BID is also building a new website that will launch in the new few months, which will be optimized for mobile devices with video profiles of shop owners and details on the BID's events. Google Maps will be integrated into the new platform, so that visitors can chart their trip to the neighborhood.
Laughlin is making plans for the BID while also looking ahead to the Essex Crossing development, a 1.65 million-square-foot mixed-use complex set to break ground near the entrance to the Williamsburg Bridge next year. He said he expects to see a huge increase in daytime traffic once the development opens with 250,000 square feet of office space in the next four to five years.
"It has a real potential to shift the balance of how our [Lower East Side] businesses operate," he said.