The city is withholding $90,000 from a Business Improvement District (BID) in the heart of the surging South Bronx, arguing the group did not follow proper procedure in choosing its executive director. Local merchants counter that the city is trying to control the BID, located in the shadows of three major development projects: the new $1 billion Yankee Stadium, the planned $500 million Gateway Center retail complex and the new $400 million Bronx criminal courthouse. â€œThere must be transparency in the BID formation process, and the search for an executive director must be open and thorough,â€ said Caroline Loomis, a spokeswoman for the cityâ€™s Department of Small Business Services. â€œWe will not enter into a contract with any BID where this is not the case.â€ Loomis noted none of the cityâ€™s other 54 BIDs have been held up because of the executive director selection process.
Pasquale Canale, president of the 161st Street Merchants Association, said the city was unfairly trying to control the BID, which aims to boost the area near the ballpark. â€œWe did everything by the book,â€ said Canale, a deli owner who worked on the BID proposal over a 12-year span. â€œThen all of a sudden they didnâ€™t like who we picked as manager. They gave us a book of resumes and told us to choose one. This way they could control the BID from downtown. They could do all kinds of shenanigans.â€ This is not the first time Canale has butted heads with the city. As a member of Community Board 4, he was a vocal opponent of the new Yankee Stadium and voted against it. Upset that Borough President Adolfo Carrion Jr. removed four colleagues after the boardâ€™s rejection of the stadium, Canale left when his term expired. D. Lee Ezell, chairwoman of Community Board 4, wrote to Carrion last month, asking him to intervene and resolve the differences between the merchants and the city. She said a functioning BID could play a vital role in an area witnessing â€œunprecedentedâ€ development. â€œThereâ€™s so much they could do in that area that would benefit not only the merchants,â€ said Ezell. â€œItâ€™s detrimental to allow the commercial area to lie there and do nothing.â€ Ezell said Carrion has yet to respond to her letter. Mike Murphy, a spokesman for the borough president, declined comment.
In April 2005, Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed legislation transforming the area covered by the 161st Street Merchants Association into a BID, which delivers supplemental services such as extra sanitation and maintenance to business corridors through a special assessment paid by property owners within the district. Things quickly soured. Unsatisfied with the process by which the 161st Street BID chose its executive director, Ann Abraham Lindsey, the city refused to release the first $90,000 in fees it collected from landlords. Canale and his group have refused to dump Lindsey, who continues to work as a consultant for the merchants. Lindsey would not discuss why she believes the city is against her selection. But she did say that the merchants should have the final say. â€œWhose responsibility is it to select the executive director? â€œ she asked. â€œIt is the BID itself. The city only has oversight. I know that by the law.â€ The spat also has affected merchants a few blocks north, along 167th Street, according to Ezell and Walter Houston, executive director of the 167th Street Business and Professional League. The 167th Street merchants have been unable to move forward an ambitious plan in which they would team with 161st Street merchants to reconfigure streetscapes and overhaul local businesses to better fit in with the new Yankee Stadium. City Councilwoman Helen Diane Foster (D-Bronx), whose district office lies just north of the new stadium site, defended Lindsey and described her as â€œa woman who will tell you what she thinks whether you want to hear it or not.â€ She compared the sidelining of Lindsey to the removal of the Community Board 4 members, and said nothing related to the high-stakes Yankee Stadium project would surprise her. â€œThereâ€™s a lot invested in this plan going through without any bumps,â€ she said. (For more on the 161st BID, click here. For more on the new Yankee Stadium, click here. ) The NYCity News Service is a product of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.