BY MEAGHAN MCGOLDRICK & HELEN KLEIN
With its diversity of commercial areas, running from the local businesses lining Mermaid Avenue to the restaurants and entertainment venues in the amusement area, Coney Island faces a variety of challenges as it reinvents itself, challenges that took on increased urgency after Superstorm Sandy devastated the area in 2012.
Leading the charge has been the five-year-old Alliance for Coney Island, a not-for-profit organization that, since its inception, has upped the neighborhood’s visibility with a range of free events — Fourth of July fireworks, movies on the beach, pet and children’s costume contests, job recruitment events and more — whose goals include increasing the number of visitors to the seaside resort area, and overall strengthening the neighborhood’s economy.
Advocacy since the Alliance’s founding has led, according to Executive Director Alexandra Silversmith, to various funding infusions. These include $700,000 in funds raised by the Alliance to assist in rebuilding in the wake of Sandy, as well as a grant from Governor Andrew Cuomo, in the amount of $2.1 million, targeted at the revitalization of Mermaid Avenue.
That latter grant has been used, among other things, to provide sanitation services in excess of what is provided by the city, as well as to fund a liaison between the businesses on the strip and the neighborhood.
Now, the group is taking the first steps toward establishing a Business Improvement District in the neighborhood, a logical outgrowth of the work already being done along Mermaid, though, said Silversmith, a potential BID area may not be confined to Mermaid Avenue, but could include Stillwell and Neptune Avenues, and the amusement area as well.
There are many benefits to forming a BID, which is done in conjunction with the city’s Department of Small Business Services (SBS), and which, before launching, must be approved by a majority of businesses and property owners within the BID area.
By agreeing to assess themselves an additional amount each year, the members of the BID partake of a variety of additional services as desired, from supplemental sanitation to security to holiday decorations, as well as new street amenities from decorative lighting to benches and bike racks.
There are currently 75 BIDs in New York City, including 23 in Brooklyn, all formed through a rigorous process that includes extensive outreach to businesses, property owners and residents and a mandated public review process before a BID is signed into law.
It’s the earliest stage of that process — whether local businesspeople and property owners want to create a BID, and, if so, what its boundaries would be — that is now underway, according to Silversmith, who told this paper that the Alliance had recently completed surveys of community stakeholders “to get a better sense of the needs,” and create “a profile of what the economy is in Coney Island beyond just the amusement district.”
The effort, added Silversmith, has resulted in the garnering of “more data than we could have imagined, which is great. The report we’ll be releasing with SBS really shows that people want to see sanitation services, they want to see district marketing, they want to figure out ways to make it safer here.
“A BID isn’t perfect,” Silversmith went on, “but we’re really taking a strong look at all the different types of merchants and how we can better serve them.” Among the decisions in the offing — not only the area covered by the BID, but also the services that are desired, the method of assessment (whether based on square footage or frontage, for example) and, ultimately, the BID’s budget, which is developed once the BID profile has been formed.
To that end, Silversmith noted, the Alliance began “convening the stakeholders” in late fall, 2017. “At the last meeting, we had over 60 stakeholders that really did represent the variety of corridors we have here, all sitting in a room talking about what a BID could be and what their needs are,” she said. “There is a variety of opinion about BIDs but the goal right now is to get everybody in the room to learn what a BID is. A lot aren’t really realizing what that means.”
Silversmith stressed that the Alliance would get behind whatever the stakeholders want, noting, “We see the ways a BID could assist the area, but it has to work for whoever is within the boundaries that the committee decides on. We are helping to facilitate that but nothing has been decided. I think the biggest thing is to see which property owners and merchants want to be a part of this, but mostly, we just want everybody in the conversation.”
The Alliance is holding its third planning committee meeting on Wednesday, January 24, at 10 a.m. at Gargiulo’s Restaurant, 2911 West 15th Street. For more info, go to coneyislandbid.org.