Special Service Areas – New York Style

A PLACE colleague of mine, Jill Siegel, and I recently had the opportunity to travel to New York to learn about the differences between New York City’s Business Improvement Districts and Chicago’s Special Service Areas, both of which are forms of special taxing districts. After an early morning flight into the Big Apple, we met up with fellow IDA fall conference attendee Lauren Collins, who oversees two BIDs in Brooklyn, Church Avenue and Flatbush. Lauren took us on a walking tour of the districts, which abut each other, and we learned about typical BID programs for tenant retention and attraction and district cleanliness, beautification and safety. We caught the bus to our hotel and after a quick drop off of bags, we headed out for lunch in Park Slope.

We stumbled on s’Nice Cafe, a neighborhood cafe sure to make your vegan heart melt. After a brisk walk around Prospect Park, we met up with the outgoing Executive Director of the Myrtle Avenue Partnership, and the Co-chair of the New York City BID Association, Blaise Backer.(Blaise will become the Deputy Commissioner of the Neighborhood Development Division of New York City's Small Business Services on May 5, 2014.) Currently, Chicago doesn't have an SSA Association, but there is strong interest among the 52 SSAs in finding better ways to collaborate and support one another.

That evening, Jill and I attended a Steering Committee meeting of a district that is currently being created on 7th Avenue in Brooklyn. We were hosted by the James Dean Ellis of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, which is sponsoring the creation of the district. It was an honor to be present while business and property owners talked about the right boundaries, programs and services and budget for the district’s needs. They also took ownership for conducting outreach, obtaining support signatures and formally agreeing to fulfill the responsibilities of a steering committee member through a signed document.

The next morning, Jill and I joined more than 100 other Brooklynites at the Brooklyn Borough Hall to hear Eric Adams, President of the Borough of Brooklyn, and Carlo Scissura, the CEO of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, speak about how the borough and chamber can help Brooklyn’s small businesses. In attendance were economic development and chamber professionals as well as small business owners and developers. Many of their concerns were similar to what we hear in Chicago: too much red tape from City Hall, a tough economy, and concerns about rising costs of doing business in the city. I was impressed to learn that the Brooklyn Chamber has 1600 members.

Before catching our flight home, we met with Kris Goddard, the Executive Director of the Neighborhood Development Division, Small Business Services, New York City. Kris was a wealth of information in explaining to us how BIDs are created in New York. Generally speaking, residential property is excluded when at all possible, and if it’s included, it’s taxed at $1/year. For those in Chicago who work with SSAs with substantial residential property, the ability to exclude residents or reduce their tax burden would be a welcome option. BIDs in New York often take a couple of years to create and the City provides some financial and technical assistance to groups that are interested. That’s unlike Chicago, where the financial burden is solely on the shoulders of the sponsoring organization. The other fascinating difference between Chicago and New York is that New York essentially guarantees the BIDs that they will receive full funding, regardless of what’s actually collected. Not so in Chicago, where the city is merely a pass-through of what’s collected by the county. When property owners are late or delinquent in paying their tax bills, the effect on SSA budgets can be severe.

Stay tuned for my next blog where I write about my recent trip to Miami, FL and the Wynwood Arts District. Follow PLACE on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest for news and pictures of our work, travels and adventures in neighborhood revitalization.