Hooray For East Harlem: First Business Improvement District (BID) Coming To East 125th Street

September 29, 2023

Plans are underway to form a BID on East 125th Street, a diverse corridor with a rich cultural history, outstanding intermodal transit connectivity, and a growing population.

It is the terminus of the proposed Second Avenue Subway and has seen significant residential development over the past decade.

With the support of the NYC Department of Small Business Services (SBS) and Deputy Council Speaker Diana Ayala, local nonprofit Uptown Grand Central and a steering committee of area property owners, small business owners, tenants, community and nonprofit leaders have been working over the past year and a half to form East Harlem’s first-ever Business Improvement District (BID). A BID is a public/private partnership where property owners within a defined set of boundaries pay an assessment that is used to provide supplemental services in the district. Currently, there are 70-plus BIDs across New York City.

“Over the last 18 months a dedicated and diverse group of civically minded residents, business leaders, not-for-profits, property owners, elected officials and city agencies have rolled up their sleeves and created a blueprint for the  East 125th Street BID,” said Melody Capote, Executive Director of the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute and Steering Committee Co-chair. “We have created a community-focused and inclusive plan to empower our community, beautify our streets and improve the quality of life for residents, visitors, business owners and everyone who come to East 125th Street.”

Despite its vitality and rich history, the neighborhood surrounding East 125th Street between Fifth and Second Avenues also faces a unique set of challenges, with large numbers of people who require significant services crowding the streets and sidewalks. East 125th Street has the highest concentration of mental health and drug treatment facilities in New York City and is the drop-off location for the thousands of individuals served by the shelters and programs on Randall’s Island. In recent months, a growing number of businesses along East 125th Street have closed, leaving a high percentage of vacant storefronts.

The East 125th Street BID would bring much-needed services to the areas surrounding the East 125th Street corridor including Sanitation and maintenance, public safety, streetscape and beautification, district marketing and community programming. As the result of robust and inclusive planning process including a community needs survey, and diligent work by the BID’s Steering Committee, the emphasis would be on supplemental sanitation, with a public safety strategy that includes a coordinator to work more closely with community leaders, stakeholders and New York City and State agencies.

The BID’s mission includes:
·        Creating a safe, clean, and thriving commercial and cultural destination;
·        Fostering innovative and culturally responsible development and businesses;
·        Promoting safety and security, beautification and cleanliness;
·        Creating a unified voice to gain support and engagement from our public officials;
·        Making the district a vibrant neighborhood that serves as a destination,” reads the committee’s collective vision statement.

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The catchment area for the BID would include East 125th Street between just east of Fifth Avenue to Second Avenue, south to 124th Street on some blocks, and north to 128th Street on other blocks (visual below). These blocks represent diverse building typologies including a mixture of small retail, many not-for-profit buildings, exempt government-owned sites, commercial buildings, development sites and larger affordable and mixed-income residential buildings.

The BID would bring to the neighborhood resources of $750,000 in the first three years, then up to a legal maximum of $1 million after three years if approved by a supermajority vote of the board. Each property owner’s contribution would be determined by an assessment formula based on the property’s front footage and taxable value. The assessment formula was designed to be equitable for all the BID’s members, with special emphasis on supporting and promoting affordable housing.

“Ultimately, the goal is for Uptown Grand Central and the BID to work together to deliver sustainable services to the district,” said Carey King, Director, Uptown Grand Central. “Since we were founded by a group of local small business owners a decade ago, Uptown Grand Central has worked as a small nonprofit to clean the streets, underwrite public art, sponsor community events, showcase small businesses, and improve public safety and sanitation. The addition of the resources of a BID will ensure consistency and help us make these services more robust.”

“We are excited to both bring more resources to the district, and are particularly proud that we have crafted a unique assessment that incentivizes affordable housing,” said Jordan Barowitz, Steering Committee Co-Chair.

As outlined by SBS, the BID formation process includes extensive planning, outreach and legislative phases. The East 125th Street process is now reaching its outreach phase, which will include a minimum of two public meetings and canvassing local businesses and property owners. After achieving support, the BID formation process will then advance into the legislative phase, undergoing review by Community Board 11, the City Planning Commission, the City Council, and the Mayor.

BID planning committee members include co-chairs from the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute and The Durst Organization, as well as representatives from 1775 Houses Tenants Association, Artimus, Blumenfeld Development Group, DDM Development, Extell Development, Harlem Berry Beauty Lounge, Harlem Children’s Zone, Harlem Neighborhood Block Association, MADDD Equities, Mt. Sinai, the N.Y. Proton Center, Positive Workforce, The Richman Group, Sisters Caribbean Cuisine, and Zaro’s Family Bakery. Elected official members include Deputy Speaker Diana Ayala, Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine and Mayor Eric Adams (represented by the NYC Department of Small Business Services), as well as Community Board 11.

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