Notorious B.I.D.s: Just how much influence do developers wield? Downtown Alliance, Downtown Brooklyn Partnership have evolved into power brokers
From the back, from left to right: Steve Roth, Larry Silverstein, MaryAnne Gilmartin and Stephen Ross; the front, from left to right: Tucker Reed and Jessica Lappin
When Tucker Reed learned of JDS Development Group’s plans to bring a 1,000-foot tower to Downtown Brooklyn, he became, in his own words, a bit “emotional.” He recounted the moment during a panel last month, saying the proposed renta上海夜网论坛 l tower at 9 Dekalb Avenue would help address the massive population growth expected in the borough.
People are freaking out, saying Oh my God it’s too much,’” he said, referring to attempts to squash the project. “As a 21st-century Brooklyn, we shouldn’t be afraid of embracing our new skyline, our new growth.”
As president of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, Reed has embraced the role of champion of new development. The Partnership oversees three business improvement districts (BIDs), nonprofits dedicated to promoting economic growth that are fueled by assessments, or special taxes paid by property and business owners. Neighborhoods have turned to BIDs as a way to supplement services that the city wasn’t providing, often in the form of sanitation and public safety.
Today, there are 72 BIDs across the city that invested $172 million in those districts in 2015, according to the Department of Small Business Services. But some of the largest BIDs have evolved into much more than quality-of-life boosters. The Partnership and the Downtown Alliance, whose boards include some of the city’s biggest real estate players, have positioned their districts as burgeoning commercial hubs desperately in need of new development. They act as quasi-governmental bodies, public relations machines, cheerleaders and ultimately, self-appointed leaders of the neighborhoods they serve. And though they wear many prominent hats, they face little government oversight.
“It’s gotten to the point where they try to figure out what else they can do,” said Rachel Meltzer, a professor of urban policy at the New School. “Should the BID just be an organization focused on maintenance? I think there’s a feeling that these BIDs want to be more than that.”
In 1984, the city’s first BID sprouted up in the Union Square-14th Street area. It was followed by a flurry of others, and the organizations were seen as change agents in troubled neighborhoods. The Bryant Park BID, for example, was credited with sweeping away an open-air drug market and creating a viable public space for lunch breaks and community activities.
In the 1990s, Lower Manhattan landlords saw vacancy rates in their office buildings climb to alarming levels, hitting a staggering 20.7 percent in 1996, according to Cushman Wakefield. The area was “in the depths of what can only be called a depression,” said Carl Weisbrod, now director of the Department of City Planning. “It was a[……]