CONEY ISLAND – 30 business and property owners in Coney Island have signed a petition to send to the Department of Small Business Services hoping to prevent a business improvement district (BID) from forming in their neighborhood.
The map above includes the very preliminary boundaries and is not the final BID boundary.
Coney Island resident (and son of a property owner) Daniel Ioannou, and owner of Hair For U: Coney Island’s Finest Salon, Edwin Cosme, believe the BID initiative “is just an attempt to funnel money to the organization [Alliance for Coney Island],” Ioannou said.
Currently, there are 74 BID’s in NY, with 23 in Brooklyn alone – think 5th Avenue in Park Slope, Myrtle Avenue, Atlantic Avenue, Church Avenue, Flatbush has two, Junction – all working to keep streets clean, holiday lights up and marketing their business districts as best they can.
A BID is funded through a special, additional assessment property owners agree to – equivalent to an average of 6% in property taxes. The city then collects it from all property owners within the boundaries of the district and gives the monies to the BID. Property owners can pass it on to the tenants, depending on what the individual leases say.
The BID initiative in Coney Island is organized by the Alliance for Coney Island who started meeting with stakeholders at the end of June to discuss a possible BID, says its executive director Alexandra Silversmith.
“We think that the environment for merchants, residents and visitors can be improved and that a BID is one way of facilitating that growth and improvement,” Silversmith told us. “There are a variety of services that a BID provides which can improve the shopping experience as well as enhance the business environment to help the businesses of Coney Island thrive.”
Cosme disagrees with her.
“She’s pitching that this is only going to cost $1 a year,” Cosme said. “But the average cost is at least a six percent tax.”
Though the aim is to “deliver services and improvements above and beyond those provided by the City,” some business owners think otherwise.
In a passionate Facebook post Peter Ioannou (Daniel Ioannou’s father) says “business owners were unaware of the tax that comes with the BID. As BID’s have been formed across the city, less autonomy is given to business owners.”
Ioannou echo fears outlined in a 2016 story in the New Republic titled “Business Improvement Districts Ruin Neighborhoods.” According to their reporting, BID’s “are a favored neoliberal practice that transforms mixed-income neighborhoods into the same chain stores one can find at any outlet mall across the country.”
“Originally intended to take over certain services that down-on-their-luck cities were no longer delivering, like trash collection and aggressive policing, BIDs have transformed into a tool that displaces small businesses and heavily favors property owners,” author of that article Max Rivlin-Nadler writes.
Though is is certainly possible for BID’s to help small businesses grow, often the reality is that “BIDs have turned against the businesses they were meant to serve, making the cost of entry into a new area even higher for local merchants, or lacking the transparency needed to instill trust from the community.”
The younger Ioannou claims that many business and property owners were not aware of a BID initiative taking place in the neighborhood. In the meetings and workshops held by the Alliance and the New York City Department of Small Businesses, the turnout of business and property owners (the ones that will be affected) was low, he said.
Ioannou says many of them didn’t even know what a BID was.
“It’s hard for people to formulate an opinion when they didn’t have all the information and they do not want to be spoon fed information from the Alliance,” Ioannou said. “Once I printed out the NYC Department of Small Business Services BID sheet and pointed to the part that states the average tax rate was 6% and pointed to the portion where the money could go, they lost interest in a BID immediately. The tax burden and loss of autonomy from a BID outweighs any foreseeable benefits.”
According to NYC.gov, the creation of a new BID starts with the community, after all, it affects them directly.
“The effort can take a long time and involves the hard work of property owners, businesses, and other local stakeholders,” the website states.
But Ioannou believes that the BID will not benefit Coney Island. After all, businesses and new residential buildings are already being built in the neighborhood without the presence of a BID.
“What is driving this development is not the work of an organization or politician, but NYC real estate prices. Coney Island is unquestionably a great bargain that has unlimited potential,” Ioannou said. “I think the business owners who have put their money where their mouth is, some for nearly a 100 years, know what works and what does not.”
If there was to be a BID in Coney Island, it would most benefit the businesses in the Amusement District, as many of the members from the Alliance for Coney Island have businesses there, Ioannou says.
“The Alliance’s own self-interest is what is driving its desire to create a BID, not what business owners want and certainly not what Coney Island needs,” he said. “A BID is a way for the Alliance for Coney Island to expand its influence into the neighborhood and line their own pockets with tax money from hard working business owners. ”
The closest BID to Coney Island is located in Brighton Beach. “If a BID is what business owners want, then fine. However, business owners of Neptune Avenue and Mermaid Avenue are making it pretty clear they are not interested,” Ioannou said. “They did not reach out to The NYC Department of Small Business Services nor did they request the Alliance for Coney Island to create a BID. They are not participating in BID meetings or workshops. Why is the idea of forming a BID still being pushed?”
Ioannou also said that it is entirely fine if the rest of Coney Island gets a BID– just make it so Mermaid and Neptune Avenues aren’t included, he said.
Currently, the Alliance for Coney Island is in the process of convening stakeholders, and it is unclear how much local support there is for a BID.
“Until we meet several more times and everyone hears the exact process and role of the BID Planning Committee to consider what the BID focuses on, we cannot state if there is or is not full support,” Silversmith said. “We are currently just in engagement mode and facilitating the conversation.”
But it is a conversation Ioannou, Cosme and 30 stakeholders who signed the petition don’t want to have.
“20, 30, 40 years of catering and doing business within the community should mean something and certainly has value. These businesses have either stuck around when many left or opened up a shop when no one else would,” Ioannou said. “They have braved many obstacles and still stuck around. We appreciate them very much. Many of these same business owners have hung campaign signs for current local elected officials. It’s time for elected officials and other leaders to walk the commercial strips and hear from those whom are directly impacted from a BID.”
An elected official like Councilmember Mark Treyger. Just a few days ago, the city council approved his anti-bullying bill to collect and report bullying data every six months.
“Here is his opportunity to continue the fight against bullying by coming to the aid of the merchants in his district who are being bullied and shakedown by the Alliance for Coney Island,” Ioannou said. Which is why he created the petition.
For those who disagree with the idea of a BID, Silversmith has this to say.
“We ask them to join us for a conversation to understand the process of forming a BID, how BID assessments are decided and add their voice to the conversation to discuss what services are needed that a BID can help fulfill,” she said.
Ioannou and the other 30 businesses and property owners in Coney Island will not give up in their attempt to stop a creation of a BID. In fact, they hope elected officials can get together to support them, as “they are going to have to listen to their constituents,” Ioannou said.
“[I want] to ensure all business owners of Mermaid and Neptune Ave’s voices are heard,” he said, “landowners and lessees, these are my neighbors and friends.”