Woodside BID Holds Proposal Meeting
The latest meeting about forming a business improvement district (BID) in Woodside did not draw a large audience last week at St. Sebastian’s Parish Hall on 57th Street. Some of those who did attend said the morning hour might have been inconvenient for the businesspersons who had been informed of it but hadn’t shown up. Community Board Chairman Joseph Conley didn’t take the small turnout as a setback, however. At the start of the June 19 meeting, he said to the gathering that a steering committee for creation of a BID must be formed, and he repeated some of the reasons why a BID should exist in Woodside. He recalled his disgust at seeing overflowing trash baskets on Roosevelt Avenue some three weeks earlier, at the end of the Memorial Day weekend, and said an efficient BID could relieve the neighborhood of that squalid sight and others. The prime reason for a BID, he said, is to make the neighborhood better.
BIDs can take a while to form, and this one has been in the process for at least a year. At the meeting, Eddie Eng of the Small Business Administration was asked just how long it takes on average to get one going and he reckoned about two and a half to three years—but in reality it takes as long as it takes its enthusiasts to convince the people for whom it is intended that it is truly of benefit to them; then to draw the boundaries; then to bring their case to the city and get on track to having it approved. There are nearly 70 BIDs in the five boroughs, so if a BID’s backers go about their business competently they are likely to succeed. David Rosasco, Woodside resident and sometime political candidate, brought up the fact that shopkeepers are already required under penalty of fines to sweep the sidewalk areas in front of their businesses, and many have volunteered to purchase and install trash can liners—so what makes the BID-backers’ promotion of sanitation services so significant? Eng said that on a block of shops, every storekeeper must worry that mandatory clean-up won’t be enough, since the wind will bring trash right back to the pavement that had recently been swept, leaving the merchants subject to fines incurred while they have been minding their own businesses. The corps of clean-up workers the BID provides is there to keep the pavements clean and the Sanitation police away. Tom Ryan, former head of Woodside on the Move, said such benefits as this must be sold to the business people who are sought as BID members, because right now they regard themselves as municipal ATMs, a source of ready money for the city through fines. Eng said that it’s not just cleaning, or security or any of the primary benefits that are promoted. He could list about 50 benefits, he said. Conley said that anyone going out to spread the gospel of the BID must have many of those benefits memorized and ready for recitation.
Skepticism about BIDs is frequently traceable to anxiety over being assessed, since assessment is an expense in addition to rent and taxation. But Conley said that assessments should be sold as a benefit, not a burden. Eng pointed out that the expense, established through evaluation of individual property, is insignificant compared to either the rents or taxation that have to be paid. Once businesspersons are willing to join and pay the assessment, the great benefit of keeping funds for local improvement can be realized, Conley said. This is in contrast to funds from City Hall or Albany, for which local business must make an appeal. For comparison, he referred to graffiti removal money coming at present from local Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer. It’s a fine thing, he said, but it could run out and not be funded again. In contrast, a reliable graffiti-removal fund could be set up within the BID.
The next meeting date is July 16, but nothing further about it is yet determined. Conley said he needs banks with Woodside branches, like Chase and Astoria Federal, to come to meetings, especially since they have expressed interest in a BID. Also necessary are similarly interested businesses like the bar/restaurant Sean Og and the meat merchant, Ottomanelli. Daytime or nighttime meetings can be arranged, and out of them committees formed. Once they get started, the participants might realize a Woodside BID in a surprisingly short time.