GOODNEWS BK: Kelly Carroll, executive director, Atlantic Ave. BID; ‘In lockstep’ with the community 

February 26, 2024 Wayne Daren Schneiderman
Kelly Carroll, executive director, Atlantic Avenue Business Improvement District.Photo by Wayne Daren Schneiderman
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Goodnews BK LogoDOWNTOWN — As executive director for the Atlantic Avenue Business Improvement District (BID), Bay Ridge resident Kelly Carroll represents more than 300 small businesses along a 1.2-mile stretch in the neighborhoods of Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill, and Boerum Hill — helping to promote them and catalyze their growth.

However, Carroll is quick to point out that she is “not your typical executive director.”

“I approach communities from a place of being lockstep with them,” she said, adding that she prides herself on being an advocate for the people.

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“I see everything through an advocacy lens; it’s how you get things done — and then change happens. That’s how landmarks get created; that’s how street lights get put up and repaired; that’s how things are cleaned up.” 

The main advocacy points of the Atlantic Avenue BID, according to Carroll, are beautification, sanitation, marketing, and advocacy.

Originally from Buffalo, N.Y., Carroll grew up in a neighborhood and a city that is characterized by fantastic architecture, history, and small businesses — including ample mom and pop shops.  

“I also saw old buildings in Buffalo being fixed up, and was so inspired by that,” she said, adding that the things she loved about Buffalo, she eventually found in Brooklyn.

Carroll’s first foray working in public history and historic preservation was an internship at the Smith-McDowell House Museum, while attending the University of North Carolina Asheville. 

She eventually earned a Master of Science degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation.

In 2014, Carroll started a job at the Historic Districts Council (HDC) as Director of Advocacy and Community Outreach, and was the primary liaison to over 500 neighborhood groups in all five boroughs. 

“While at the HDC, I got to explore New York City’s neighborhoods, and meet with communities there, and connect with people on a deeper level,” Carroll explained.

Carroll represents more than 300 small businesses on Atlantic Avenue.
Photo courtesy of Kelly Carroll

Several years before she discovered Atlantic Avenue, which has become the center of her working life, she fell in love with Bay Ridge as a place to live. “It felt like love at first sight,” she said.

“I once came to Bay Ridge for a meeting. And when I got off the train, I went for a walk along Shore Road, walked to the bridge, and happened to fall in love with the neighborhood,” she recalled.  “It felt like home here, because I grew up in a similar community — with diversity — mom and pop shops, and it felt like a piece of my childhood I found in Brooklyn; it felt like home.”

Carroll ended up moving to Bay Ridge in 2015.

“Bay Ridge is really special. There isn’t another place like this in the world,” she said, adding that its topography, its architecture, its history — the view of the Verrazano Bridge — is unparalleled.  

“Our sunsets are amazing, we have incredible green space, our small businesses are fantastic — I can get anything I want at any time of the day. It’s a real New York neighborhood.”   

One of Carroll’s major accomplishments in Bay Ridge, while working at the HDC, was working with the community to make the Bay Ridge Parkway 400 Block Association Doctors’ Row a Historic District in 2019. It was the first NYC-designated historic district in the neighborhood.

The Bay Ridge Parkway Doctor’s Row Historic District is an intact block of row houses representative of Bay Ridge’s transformation from a suburban resort community to a middle-class urban neighborhood in anticipation of the Fourth Avenue Subway line, which was completed in 1916. The block is known for the concentration of medical professionals who have lived and worked there historically and currently, earning it the moniker Doctors’ Row.

The Bay Ridge Parkway 400 Block Association Doctors’ Row Historic District.Photo courtesy of Kelly Carroll
The Bay Ridge Parkway 400 Block Association Doctors’ Row Historic District.
Photo courtesy of Kelly Carroll

“I’ve been involved in many preservation campaigns citywide,” Carroll said, “but I always wanted to do something in Bay Ridge. It’s my home, and at the time, Bay Ridge had zero historic districts — only a handful of individual landmarks here — which I think is a problem, and I wanted to push for more.”  

Carroll pointed out that she was beyond thrilled when she saw in the paper that the Bay Ridge Parkway 400 Block Association was interested in exploring a landmark designation — “so I reached out to them, teamed up with Community Board 10 [District Manager] Josephine Beckmann, and at the time, [former] Councilmember Vincent Gentile — and it seemed that there was enough interest in the Bay Ridge community that the property owners decided that this is something that they want.”  

Ultimately, Carroll ended up leaving the HDC in 2021. 

“I’d been at that job for a number of years, learned quite a bit, and another opportunity had come across my desk,” Carroll said.

In 2022, the Atlantic Avenue BID had an opening for an executive director role.

“I had been working toward this title since I started working. My skill sets seemed to match, and I happened to be a fan of Atlantic Avenue — which also encompasses four historic districts. It’s a great Brooklyn street. So I said I’m going to do it.”  

Carroll began as executive director at the BID in October 2022.   

Carroll was instrumental in the designation of several New York City historic districts and individual landmarks.Photo by Wayne Daren Schneiderman
Carroll was instrumental in the designation of several New York City historic districts and individual landmarks.
Photo by Wayne Daren Schneiderman

According to Carroll, her key accomplishments thus far have been diversifying her board by bringing on more merchants from the two Middle Eastern parts of Atlantic Avenue as well as the newly arrived neighbors from Northern Africa that were not represented before.

Carroll also oversees all decorative lighting, and was responsible for bringing Ramadan lights to Atlantic Avenue during the holidays.

“We are a massive halal shopping destination in New York City,” she noted. “And we hang Christmas lights for the holiday season, why not Ramadan lights? We’re a multicultural neighborhood, so why not show it?”

“We also help them with their marketing, and their social media presence, as we do with all small businesses in the area,” she said.  

As of January, Carroll started a “Monthly Merchant Spotlight” feature, where she interviews business owners, takes pictures of them and their shops, and does a write-up on them — ultimately urging Atlantic Avenue neighbors to visit their neighbors in business.

Working with the Brooklyn Eagle’s weekly edition, Carroll is able to communicate directly with the brownstone neighborhoods bordering Atlantic Avenue, from the harbor to Fourth Avenue.

“We are delighted that the Eagle creates a special edition for us,” Carroll said, “and mails it to all of our merchant members. They also promote our accomplishments on their website… it’s an invaluable synergy. It’s so important for businesses to see themselves in print.”

Kelly Carroll, executive director, Atlantic Avenue Business Improvement District.Photo by Wayne Daren Schneiderman
Kelly Carroll, executive director, Atlantic Avenue Business Improvement District.
Photo by Wayne Daren Schneiderman

The organization has long advocated for traffic safety but ramped up efforts after several fatalities last year. Working alongside colleague organizations and elected officials, there recently were some significant improvements implemented.

“DOT installed mid-block crosswalks, which is huge — between Smith Street and Nevins Street — hoping it will slow down traffic and bring more foot traffic to our midblock businesses.”

There is also the horticulture component.

The BID has been investing in preserving grandfathered trees, meaning trees that if they were to die could never be replaced because of below-grade infrastructure. Atlantic Avenue has dozens of trees over 100 years old that are an asset to our communities.

“Trees are not going to stop the climate crisis,” Carroll said. “But they are our best investment in negating some of those negative effects. They lower temperature on streets; and studies show that consumers spend more money in commercial districts that have greenery. It’s just a nicer place to be.”  

Carroll referred to her position at the BID as her “dream job.”

“I love where I work, and I love where I live. And I’m still relatively new here; this is only the beginning.”

In addition to being the executive director at the BID, Carroll also teaches courses at the Center for Publishing and Applied Liberal Arts at NYU SPS since 2020, and serves on the board of directors of the City Club of New York.

She is also an adviser to the Historic Districts Council and the Art Deco Society of New York

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