Each year, New York City’s network of Business Improvements Districts (BIDs) invests approximately $100 million worth of programs and services across the five boroughs. This network of 64 BIDs constitutes the largest network of its kind nationwide. Business owners, property owners, local merchant associations, elected officials, and urban planners have come to acknowledge the importance that BIDs have on downtown revitalization. This is largely attributable to the ability of these special commercial zones to improve the pedestrian experience and compete with the suburban shopping mall.
In the 1950s, the decline of manufacturing industries and increasing suburban sprawl caused the deterioration of many once prosperous urban commercial areas. Similar to the monthly common-area fee paid by tenants in suburban shopping malls, BIDs collect mandatory assessments from property owners which are then used to design and implement programs that convey a message of “clean and safe” to visitors. This centralized system of management also allows BIDs to provide these services within clearly delineated boundaries.
BIDs have the power to impose taxes and provide collective services that benefit stakeholders while supplementing publicly funded efforts to attract visitors, investors, and residents to commercial areas. BID organizations typically seek to support and protect the “identity” of their commercial zone through campaigns and activities that reinforce their strategic location or market niche. Campaigns range from sustainable landscape improvements, including the installation of plants and trees to marketing campaigns utilizing slogans and advertisements, web sites, social media, newsletters, and outdoor events like concerts and festivals. Many BIDs also arrange for sanitation services.
The BID network in NYC faces a number of challenges. Particularly in urban areas, the demands of merchants and residents are often incompatible. While merchants, for example, are interested in attracting customers, residents (both within and in proximity to the district) may become frustrated by the negative side-effects of a successful retail corridor. In addition, strategies to deter crime within the district may inadvertently result in a “spillover” effect in adjacent neighborhoods.
Does NYC need BIDs to encourage downtown revitalization? Or can it manage revitalization without?
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