Volume 20, Number 43 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | March 9 - 15, 2011
Downtown Express photo by Aline Reynolds
SoHo resident Carl Rosenstein at the February 28 meeting over the proposed SoHo Business Improvement District.
Heated debate over proposed SoHo B.I.D.
BY Aline Reynolds
The proposed Business Improvement District for SoHo and the neighborhood’s zoning laws are prompting heated debates among residents and workers in the neighborhood.
More than 100 area residents gathered in the Puffin Room, 435 Broome St., on February 28 to voice their reservations about the B.I.D. An anti-B.I.D. protest is scheduled for April 2 in front of Councilmember Margaret Chin’s Downtown district office at 165 Park Row, when demonstrators will hand-deliver letters contesting Chin’s possible support of the B.I.D. Chin however has never stated she is in support of the B.I.D.
The discussion, mediated by Puffin Gallery owner and SoHo resident Carl Rosenstein, quickly evolved into a series of tirades against the proposal. The B.I.D., according to its opponents, would give commercial property owners and ground-floor retail stores authority over the residents in neighborhood-wide decisions.
“We each in our own way contributed to the creation of SoHo as a laissez-faire district,” said Rosenstein. “The issue of being obligated to be taxed by a private entity… is undemocratic.”
The setup, he and others fear, would be inequitable, since people living in co-operatives – predominantly longtime residents – might not have as much of a say as condominium dwellers.
“What they do is, they take over a lot of the power that really should go to the people that actually live and vote in the districts,” said Broome Street resident Lora Tenenbaum, a former board member of Community Board 2. “It really is to a great extent taxation without representation. It’s going back to the days when the landowners got to vote, and the workers didn’t.”
“I do think the business interests are clearly driving the B.I.D., and have no interests in the residents whatsoever,” echoed Broadway resident John Rockville.
The B.I.D. organizers, however, are refuting this allegation. “They’re making the grand jump to say [how many votes each property gets],” before the B.I.D. is even formed, said Barbara Cohen, a senior associate at Robert B. Pauls consultancy, which is assisting in the creation of the B.I.D. The steering committee, she pointed out, is made up of co-op residents as well as property owners.
The need to keep Broadway litter-free, a primary function of the proposed B.I.D., does not justify establishing a group valued at $700,000. “Just because [the Association of Community Employment] says it can’t do it anymore… doesn’t mean this is the solution,” said Tenenbaum. “It’s killing a gnat with a sledgehammer.”
Many residents also oppose the potential rise in tourism the B.I.D. could bring. “To attract more people, it’s just an insane idea,” said Rosenstein. The neighborhood, he said, has already turned into one big shopping mall. “It’s kind of insulting to say, we’re going to officially turn it into a mall.”
“For me,” echoed Rockville, “the problem is the sheer density of street traffic. It’d get worse, ‘cause they’re trying to maximize business.”
Chin was invited to the February 28 meeting, but couldn’t attend due to a scheduling conflict.
Chin is scheduling a meeting for SoHo residents -- including those outside the B.I.D.’s boundaries -- and B.I.D. organizers for sometime before March 17, the date of the next B.I.D. steering committee meeting. “We still think it would be good to get everyone in a room together to discuss the B.I.D., and are working to make that happen,” said Chin’s communications director, Kelly Magee.
Chin herself wasn’t available for comment.
In her Talking Point published in the February 24 issue of The Villager, the Councilmember said that she would not support the B.I.D. unless she sees “substantial support” from residents in the proposed catchment area. “To date,” she said, “that is not the case. To date, I have not come out in support of the Broadway B.I.D.”
When the B.I.D. goes before City Council in the coming months, she said, “I will base my decision on input from my constituents,” hoping in the meantime to “find compromise and reconcile disparate perspectives.”
Another reason Chin and others have not endorsed the B.I.D. is that residents in six mixed-use cooperative buildings within the B.I.D. boundaries will have to pay an average annual fee of $52 per apartment unit because the buildings have first-floor commercial properties.
These co-ops, which financially benefit from the commercial space in their buildings, “are treated no differently than a mixed-use rental property,” according to the B.I.D. steering committee.
“The resident shareholder, in this case, is truly the embodiment of ‘mixed-use,’ as this resident is also a commercial property owner, as they own shares of a business co-operation that owns commercial property.”
Though these co-op residents could possibly become exempt from the annual B.I.D. fee, it’s a complicated process that requires a “full investigation” by the B.I.D. steering committee and the co-ops. “If the B.I.D. was established, the B.I.D. could certainly assist in looking into this possibility with each co-op property,” said Cohen.