by Maria Thomas, Asst. News Editor
For a year, Rob Walsh, Senior Advisor for Strategic Partnerships at Manhattan College, has been trying to get the Kingsbridge Business Improvement District to expand its borders.
Business Improvement Districts, or BIDs, are created by city legislators, and are meant to improve neighborhoods. Businesses within a BID receive services such as sanitation, beautification, public safety and marketing, which often lead to an increase in customers and further business development.
Walsh has been pushing members of the board of directors to expand the BID to include West 238th Street and Broadway as far north as 242nd Street
It seems like a no-brainer: BIDs create safer, cleaner neighborhoods which then gain more attraction. Here’s the catch: Businesses within a BID are required to pay fees to city legislators for the services they receive.
This might be part of the reason why the process of expanding the Kingsbridge BID is taking so long.
“The Board of Directors of the BID must take their time assessing the impact of an expanded BID. They are determining if the increased cost of serving an expanded coverage area is worth the benefits that they will receive, both in increased fees and in an enhanced reputation,” said Richard Ross, a visiting professor in the O’Malley School of Business.
“It’s just not easy, because you’re telling [business owners] it’s going to cost them money. And not that it’s huge, but some people will pay a large amount while others will pay very little because they’re so tiny,” said Katherine Broheir, the Kingsbridge BID’s executive director, in an interview with The Riverdale Press.
Yet Walsh, who served as the commissioner of the Department of Small Business Services for twelve years under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, says expanding a BID does not need to take this long.
“I entered into this conversation a year ago and nothing has been done. This administration has taken a backseat on it, which is unfortunate. I look at us as an anchor institution, a powerhouse, 4,000 students strong. We spend a lot of money in the neighborhood, that’s called spending power,” said Walsh.
This spending power could improve the success of small ‘mom-and-pop shops’, thus improving the area surrounding the college, and has been proven possible by other schools in New York City.
“The New School University turned around Union Square. Pratt Institute turned around Myrtle Avenue. We could play that role. That is what I engaged the organization with, and what they decided to do was put their head in the sand,” said Walsh.
Even more reason to expand the BID, according to Walsh, is Manhattan College’s current plans for expansion.
“We’re making a big investment in the south campus with the extension of our engineering school, the Higgins center, and the new athletic center. Trying to get ahead of the game, I was thinking ‘this organization exists, the Kingsbridge BID, on Broadway, and it’s only two blocks south. What if they expanded their boundaries north?” Walsh said.
Walsh is particularly interested in a small, triangular strip of land on 242nd Street and Broadway. The area, nestled between Asian Tokyo and a vacated pharmacy, is uncared for, collecting litter and overgrown with weeds.
“Here in Manhattan, Queens or Brooklyn, someone would have put a public plaza up already. They would have outdoor seating. Can you imagine the turn around of what this could and should look like?”
Currently, there are four vacant storefronts on Broadway, adjacent to the dilapidated strip. Walsh believes that cleaning up the small area might improve business on Broadway.
Due to his dissatisfaction with the action of BID’s board of directors, Walsh has taken matters into his own hands. He has been in correspondence with Councilman Andrew Cohen, proposing the start of an organization dedicated to the sanitation and beautification of 238th Street and Broadway up to 242nd Street.
“The councilman is looking at resources that he could cobble together, to put together clean up crews. Coming out of those clean up crews, maybe we put together a smaller merchants association,” he said.
Manhattan College associate professor of political science, Margaret Groarke, PhD., has also gotten involved, letting Walsh take one of her classes down to the strip to brainstorm what could be done with the land.
“Mr. Walsh and I hope to involve my students in thinking about what could be done here — what kind of businesses? What can the blocked off road be used for? We might explore ways to find out what Manhattan College students and other nearby residents and subway/bus riders think would be useful there,” said Groarke.
Walsh has also discussed his hopes for the land with the college’s basketball coach, Steve Masiello, who said he would gladly put his players to work in an effort to clean up the area.
Walsh refuses to give up on his dreams for the Manhattan College neighborhood.
“When you have something in place, it’s better to utilize it then start with a new organization, but at some point you have to throw up your hands and figure out another way. It doesn’t look like the city is going to take any action to encourage such a partnership,” Walsh said.
While Walsh keeps pushing for action, the Kingsbridge BID directors know this takes time. In order for the expansion to occur, 75 percent of businesses in the proposed area need to agree to join the BID.
“This doesn’t happen overnight. It could take two years. We have to get in touch with every property owner from 236th to 238th on both sides and they have to support coming into the BID,” said Andrew Williams, Kingsbridge BID president, in an interview with The Riverdale Press.