Letter to the editor: A Business Improvement District on Third Avenue — Why Now?

January 17, 2020 Editorial Staff
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By Sheila Brody, Third Avenue Business and Property Owner & Robert Howe, Third Avenue Property Owner

As you may have heard, a steering committee consisting of Third Avenue property owners, business owners and community members has initiated an effort to form the Third Avenue Bay Ridge Business Improvement District.

For decades, the Merchants of Third Avenue has relied on the leadership of a few dedicated community volunteers to advocate for resources, produce events and generally look after the neighborhood. So… why NOW do we need a BID?

We get asked that question a lot lately. Today, Bay Ridge’s Third Avenue enjoys a great reputation for shopping, dining and strolling, but it wasn’t always that way.

News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

In the 1960s and 1970s, Third Avenue had a lot of vacancies and not much retail. Storefronts were bricked up, and many building owners rented out their storefronts as apartments. What is today known as “Restaurant Row” only had a handful of restaurants. Ridgewood Savings Bank was a plumbing supply store, Rite Aidat 79th Street was a garage, and the parking lot for Brooklyn Market was a Mobil gas station.

Then, in 1978, Mayor Ed Koch and Al Nahas, an art dealer on Third Avenue, struck up a relationship. The mayor started to visit Third Avenue on a regular basis and Al Nahas opened a spectacular restaurant called Nightfalls. The avenue started to become known as “Restaurant Row.” About the same time, in 1981, New York City enacted legislation to create BIDS, Business Improvement Districts. Almost 40 years later, New York City has 76 BIDs.

Today, Bay Ridge’s Third Avenue has 30+ eateries, boutiques, professional offices and salons of every type. We have festivals, strolls, parades, summer lights and holiday lights, and are the envy of many other shopping avenues. Things are great, so why do we have to change?

Well, for the past 25 years, much of what happened on Third Avenue was the result of the efforts of a handful of volunteers. Twenty-five years later, some volunteers have dropped off and the remaining volunteers are 25 years older. No one is lining up to volunteer nights and weekends to produce the events we now have.

Even if there were more volunteers, there is much more that can be done on the avenue such as marketing, streetscape improvements, additional events, government advocacy and facilitating a meaningful internet presence, so that Bay Ridge businesses can adapt to the digital era. All of this is not possible with just a handful of volunteers.

Also, take an honest look at the avenue. Are we able to attract a vibrant mix of quality retailers? Are the current vacancies a harbinger of a brick-and-mortar decline? Did we ever foresee our kids and neighbors driving to Williamsburg and Sunset Park for dinner or shopping, as they do now?

So, as we look forward, the property owners and business owners have a decision to make for the future. Do we do nothing and hope for the best? Do we become a homebound community defined by Amazon, Uber Eats and Netflix?

The members of the Bay Ridge Third Avenue BID Formation Steering Committee want to define the future of the avenue and not be defined by other forces. A BID will provide a structure to grow for the future and still maintain the events that the Bay Ridge community currently enjoys.

Third Avenue is doing fine in 2019 so we don’t need the word “Improvement” in the BID definition. Rather we insert the word “Investment” — if we do not invest in our avenue, some not-so-good things could happen, and may be happening already.

We hope you all will support the effort to define, stabilize and strengthen the avenue for the next 25 years. Join us as we start to invest in our Bay Ridge Third Avenue.

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