The 21-block business improvement district, known as a BID, will run west from Rockwell Place to Classon Avenue along Fulton Avenue in the neighborhoods of Fort Greene and Clinton Hill.
BIDs are organized by business owners and elected officials to encourage local economic development. BIDs are funded through a special property tax and are overseen by the city Department of Small Business Services.
The Fulton Street BID consists of 371 properties, according to a city council aide involved with drafting the legislation who asked to speak anonymously about the new law. The first-year budget for the BID, to be funded entirely by property taxes, will be $300,000, said the aide. The average annual tax will be $1595 per business owner.
The budget will be spent on enhancing sanitation and security services along the chosen stretch of Fulton Street, holiday season street decorations and on a marketing campaign aimed to bring shoppers to the district.
Fulton Street’s BID status comes at the end of a costly, two-year construction project by the city to replace the street’s century-old water supply system. To accommodate the work, sections of the two-way street were reduced to one-way traffic and bus routes were changed. Small business owners say these changes drove people away from Fulton Street during the past two years to other shopping districts with street-side parking and consistent public transit access.
“During that time we’ve had discussions on how to revitalize that street,” said Councilwoman Letitia James, who helped organize the BID along with other elected officials and business owners. “We decided the best way to do that would be through a BID.”
James said the BID was developed specifically help the diverse array of small businesses on Fulton Street who were negatively impacted by the water main replacement project.
The day before the council voted to approve the establishment of the BID, business owners on Fulton Street spoke about the changes the project might bring to their district.
“I have mixed feelings about it,” said Michael Allen, the owner of You-Niques, a hair salon on Fulton Street off Clinton Avenue. Small business owners will be charged taxes “to rebuild the damage the city created,” said Allen. “At the same token, I’m a business man. You’ve gotta give to get.”
Allen said once he decided to open a business in Fort Green he chose the specific location for his salon because there was a bus stop right outside. He hoped the busy intersection would result in a high volume of walk-in customers at You-Niques.
The plan was dashed, however, less than one month after the salon opened when the city began construction on the new water system. Buses were rerouted and Allen said his business never took off as he had hoped it would.
“Its tight right now,” Allen said of business on Fulton Street. “Since I’ve been here I’ve seen businesses open and close up.” Allen, who initially opposed the BID, said he still wasn’t sure it would turn things around- or that levying additional taxes on business owners would be popular with other merchants. “If I’m putting this money out there’s really no guarantee that I can survive,” Allen said.
Further east down Fulton, Ten Zin, the owner of Green Planet Organic Food Market, said the BID was ill timed. “I’m struggling, I’m behind in my bills,” said Zin. “Now I have to pay extra money? It doesn’t make any sense at all for me.”
Atchuda Barkr, the owner of Sister’s Community Hardware store, said the BID taxes will go towards services such as cleaning and security that she and other small businesses owners are already providing for themselves. “We all want a BID but its almost a slap in the face to say we will accept tax increases to have people sweep and call the police when we already do that ourselves,” Barkr said.
In the months leading up to the passing of the BID, Barkr, Rocky Widdi, the owner of the Met Food Supermarket, and a handful of other business owners spearheaded an opposition drive to postpone the BID for at least two or three years.
Widdi said the district needs time to recuperate from the damaging two-year construction period when business on the street went into decline. “We’ve really been struggling,” Widdi said. “I think we need a little break. If the city wants to do a BID they should have given us some time to adjust.”
Widdi said the loosely-formed opposition group collected a petition signed by more than 200 Fulton Street business owners and residents denouncing the BID. The official period to file objections with the city over the BID lasted fom Nov. 13th to Dec. 12th, said the city council aide who worked on the BID planning. “There were no valid objections to the BID,” during the objection period, said the aide. “Generally BIDs are good for the community. If we find its in the best inters of the community we establish the BID.”
Now that the BID is official, said Barkr, the hardware store owner, it will be up to the city to work with small business owners to ensure they see real returns from the taxes they invest in the program. “I hope that the city has a process in place to guarantee that it’s a comprehensive plan,” said Barkr. “We just went through two years of economic genocide.”