Seventh Avenue to make a BID

A movement is underfoot to create a business improvement district for one of Park Slope’s premier avenues.

The Park Slope Chamber of Commerce says the creation of a Seventh Avenue BID will help reinvigorate the popular commercial strip, comprised of some 300 merchants.

The problem is that just 100 of those merchants belong to the local chamber of commerce. “You tell me which you would rather have, 300 or 100?” asked Mitch Szpicek, owner of Little Things Toy Store and president of the chamber. “The BID will get more money for things that need to be done.”

Unlike the chamber, which must solicit its members for voluntary dues, the BID’s budget is funded by a mandatory property assessment.

“With the current economic environment, you don’t want to have to beg for money they can’t afford,” noted Szpicek.

BID money goes to the city, which holds it and then reallocates it to the organization, which forms a board and hires an executive director to administer services. Merchants and landlords then decide how best to spend the money, which typically goes additional services, including security, holiday lights,sanitation, and marketing efforts.

“It is getting harder and harder to do the kinds of things we’ve done in the past,” said Bob Kalb, owner of the Park Slope Copy Center and treasurer of the chamber. “A BID can do many more things than the chamber is able to do, such as advertising, Web sites, blogs and special promotions.”

Kalb recently solicited the support from the Park Slope Civic Council for the nascent movement, and the group responded by unanimously voting to write a letter of support that it will dispatch to the city’s Department of Small Business Services, the agency that helps merchants initiate a BID’s creation.

“God bless you — we need a BID” said Ken Freeman, the president of the civic council.

But civic council member Robert Levine urged caution. “Unless you can tell us the merchants are for it, I don’t think we should be saying we need a BID,” he said.

The BID will require quite a bit more approvals before its creation. Ultimately, the City Council and the mayor must sign off on the district.

Irene Lo Re, executive director of the Fifth Avenue BID, said the process of forming a BID is an “arduous” one, but worth it in the long run. Formed in 2008, the Fifth Avenue BID took two years to create, and now has an annual budget of $300,000.

Kalb said the plan is to first alert merchants and landlords along Seventh of the initiative, and then build consensus. The proposed BID would span along Seventh, from Flatbush Avenue to Prospect Avenue.

The avenue has not been immune to the impacts of the economic downturn,but Kalb remains bullish on its future. “Seventh Avenue was, or is, the signature avenue of Park Slope, but it is also true that there are a lot of vacant stores, so there have been some difficulties for merchants,” he said. “But it is still the business and banking hub of Park Slope.”