Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Hurricane Relief Resources for Commercial District Managers

As a New York-based organization, our heart goes out to the millions affected by Hurricane Sandy. In Jackson Heights, Queens, where our offices are located, the effects were minimal. Many trees fell, but miraculously there was little damage to structures. 

Across the City, Business Improvement Districts are now mobilizing for recovery as many of local businesses continue to feel the impact of the hurricane. In our local BID,the 82nd Street Partnership, a number of signs and awning have been damaged that will need repair. But other than that we fared pretty well. 

See below for a good overview of resources, sent by the Flatiron BID District this morning.


New York City, including the Department of Small Business Services (SBS) and the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), is coordinating a set of services to assist small businesses in recovering from Hurricane Sandy. Below is an outline of available programs and relevant contact information. 

New York City Business Assistance Programs

For small- to mid-sized businesses that have experienced business interruption
Emergency loans will be available, patterned after similar programs deployed in past emergencies. Loans will be capped at $10,000. Please click this link to contact an NYC Business Solutions Account Manager or call 311 and ask for NYC Business Emergency Loan.

For mid- to large-sized businesses that need to undertake rebuilding
An emergency sales tax letter from New York City Industrial Development Authority (IDA) will be available allowing businesses to avoid payment of New York City and New York State sales taxes on materials purchased for rebuilding. IDA will also waive all fees and, while following State law, look to streamline its normal procedure. This program is expected to offer economic benefits to reconstruction projects costing $500,000 or more. Please contact Shin Mitsugi for further information on this program.

For any business that is temporarily displaced from its space
Short-term "swing" office space at Brooklyn Army Terminal available free of charge for the next30 days. NYCEDC has approximately 40,000 square feet of warehouse space at the Terminal that can be used for this purpose. Please click this link to contact an NYC Business Solutions Account Manager or call 311 and ask for NYC Business Solutions.

For any business in need of other emergency assistance
The SBS Business Outreach Team and Emergency Response Unit's Large Scale Response Team will be deployed after the storm to help all impacted small businesses. This team is currently on-call for any storm-related business inquiries and is closely coordinating with the NYC Office of Emergency Management. Please click this link to contact an NYC Business Solutions Account Manager or call 311 and ask for NYC Business Solutions

Federal Aid Programs for Disaster Recovery

Click here for information from the Federal Small Business Administration on disaster recovery assistance.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Inspired by the South Bronx - Aspirational Staging of Vacant Space

Earlier this week I had the distinct pleasure of speaking on a panel with my friend and colleague Kerry McLean at the annual conference of the New York State Neighborhood Preservation Coalition. Kerry is Director of Community Development at the Women’s Housing and Economic Development Corporation (WHEDco), a non-profit that builds ‘green’ affordable housing and offers innovative solutions to Bronx families. I've written about WHEDco's work before - but her most recent accomplishment really deserves mention. The district where Kerry works is one that has seen its fair share of troubles. When the Bronx was burning in the 1970's, Southern Boulevard in the South Bronx was ground zero. Remember that famous image of President Carter touring a destroyed urban neighborhood? Yup, that is exactly where we are talking about. 

Before: Vacant Space along Southern Blvd, Bronx, NY
After years of investment in new housing, education and programming - the organization turned its efforts to improving the retail offerings. But getting "retail ready" meant starting with the basics first. Working with local merchants to improve the overall safety and cleanliness of the street. 

In 2010, WHEDco was a member of the first cohort to participate in the City of New York's award-winning Neighborhood Retail Leasing Program. As the program director during it's inaugural year, I had the opportunity to see the "before" situation - new housing, some of it developed by WHEDCO, with long standing ground floor vacancies. 

As you can tell from the"before" image. These spaces were clearly not showing well. The retail consultants we hired, JGSC Group, recommended improved staging, starting with the window displays. They encouraged Kerry to identify images of the kinds of retail the community wanted and could sustain (based on an assessment and market research) and fill the windows with images that not only improved the look and feel of the space (and district), but might also build interest from potential tenants. To our knowledge, this is the first time that this strategy has been deployed by a non-profit.

While this particular space has not yet been leased, the "after" pictures are phenomenal improvement over what was there before.

After: Staging of Vacant Spaces
After: Staging of Vacant Spaces
For those interested in replicating this great idea, be forewarned, it took a lot longer to execute than we originally thought. For those considering going this route, Kerry has a an important lesson learned....finding the images was the hardest part. Once the decision was made to fill the windows with images, WHEDco wanted images that not only reflected the retail uses they wanted, but also the demographics of the neighborhood. This meant that most stock images were not quite right. And when they finally did find images that they liked, they were too small to be blown up to the size needed without becoming pix elated.

After month's of searching for the right images, the outcome speaks for itself! We'll keep tabs on the progress of this space for you. For more information on WHEDco's efforts, please visit the dedicated website at 

Are women short-changed within the BID world?

By Contributing Advisor: Dr. Carol Becker

Dr. Becker is an academic who studies business improvement districts. She completed the first comprehensive BID census and survey for the IDA back in 2010. Dr. Becker is co-authoring a book on women in downtown.

In 2010, I surveyed 203 business improvement districts large enough to have full-time staff on behalf of the International Downtown Association (IDA). Subsequent analysis of women and men in leadership positions found that 54% were headed by women and 46% by men. While it appears that men and women are hired about equally into BID management positions, the power conveyed from those hires are not equal, particularly when job title is taken into consideration.  

My analysis found a subtle but pervasive difference between the title conveyed to men and women in the field. The title “President” or “President/CEO” carries more prestige – and subsequently pay - than those with the title “Executive Director.” Of 203 BID's, 33% of men held the title of "President", "CEO" or "President/CEO" while 14% of women did. Women more frequently held the lower prestige title of Executive Director, in comparison to while 51% of men with that title.  As to even lower prestige titles, 7% of men and 3% of women held the title "Director" and 6% of women and 3% of men held the title "Manager." 

To what to we attribute these differences? And is this a cause for concern? 

Monday, October 15, 2012


For those of you in the New York market...don't miss this exciting event! Larisa Ortiz Associates is pleased to be partnering with the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC), the retail industry's most prominent trade group on a breakfast panel and "Neighborhood Runway." Click here to download the event flyer. 

The event will begin with a networking breakfast. Following breakfast will be a Neighborhood Runway featuring five of the City’s most exciting retail districts. Presentations for this segment will be given by Lauren Brown (Jamaica Center BID, Queens), Gordon Bell (Bed-Stuy Gateway BID, Brooklyn), Michelle Sledge (Northfield Community LDC, Staten Island), and Jamila Diaz (HUB 3rd Avenue, Bronx).

A panel discussion regarding CityPoint and retail in Downtown Brooklyn will also take place. Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) increasingly play an active role in retail attraction, offering services, support and physical improvements that are transforming retail corridors throughout the five boroughs. One such example is CityPoint, a 1.6 million square foot project poised to change the face of downtown Brooklyn. Together with our panelists we will explore how the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, a Business Improvement District, has facilitated efforts to ensure the success of this and other downtown retail projects. The panel will be moderated by Larisa Ortiz, Principal of Larisa Ortiz Associates and Co-Chair of the New York State ICSC Alliance Program. 

Organizations and businesses are also welcome to bring their marketing material to the event. A table for collateral will be available for attendees to place your marketing material.

Space is limited, so register now at:

The ICSC Alliance Program works to enhance communication between the public and private sector on emerging issues that impact the retail real estate industry and the quality of life in local communities.

Downtown Police Stations - a catalyst for revitalization

I was so pleased to see this recent piece on Middletown, CT where I first cut my teeth in downtown revitalization in the late 1990's. At the time, plans for a downtown police station with ground floor retail were on the drawing board, and William Warner, Middletown's Director of Planning, was working hard turning that vision into a reality. Many years later the station is being heralded as a "catalyst for our growth" by Quentin Phipps, Executive Director of the Middletown Downtown Business Improvement District. ["Downtown police stations seen as catalyst in 2 cities",, 10/13]. Other cities in Connecticut are now looking to replicate this success. Norwich, CT is now asking taxpayers to finance a bond of $33.4 million to construct a similar police station.

Middletown, CT downtown Police Station
Source: Google Streetview
But the police station was not the only investment made in downtown. At the time, the City successfully applied to become one of Connecticut's first state Main Street programs. Lots of additional small investments have also made a difference. Since then the City has formed a Business Improvement District, welcomed a 12-screen movie theater and a 100-room inn to town. These investments - a mixture of public and private partnerships - are now being considered a model for other towns. I couldn't agree more!

Friday, October 12, 2012

News Roundup - Good ideas and a congrats in order!

Sorry for being away for so long! In the spirit of returning to regular is a roundup of recent commercial district news from around the country...enjoy!

Congrats to our friend's in Downtown Asheville, NC! Downtown Asheville gets a Business Improvement District...and it was a hard-won battle. At the public hearing a few months ago, BID advocate Joe Minicozzi dumped bags of cigarette butts that volunteers had collected in their efforts to keep the streets clean. I just love that little anecdote! The June hearing resulted in a postponement of the BID effort until Fall, which gave organizers some time to refine the proposal in response to critics. In the end, some compromises were made. Kim MacQueen, an interim board member told the local paper Mountain Xpress, "We revisited boundaries, bylaws, board makeup and services. We spent the entire summer looking at those and met at least weekly." In the end, their tenacity paid off. "Downtown Asheville Tax District Passes", Citizen Times 

Perhaps not the most attractive image, but the
cigarette butts make a compelling argument, no?
Need to incentivize major downtown investment? Define a vision and use it to leverage public funds. Hudson Square, a Business Improvement District in NYC, just unveiled it's plans for streetscape improvements within the district. This is a quintessential BID function that often gets overlooked - that of advocacy. BID's can be powerful mechanisms to advocate for much needed investment in public infrastructure - investment that would otherwise go elsewhere. The plan for Hudson Square, developed by landscape architects Matthews Nielson, outlines the BID's vision and puts a price tag - a hefty $27 million - on the proposed improvements. Were these planning funds well spent? When you consider that the plan will undoubtedly help to leverage millions of dollars of additional funding, which will ultimately make the district more appealing to visitors and investors alike - the answer is an unequivocal yes! "Hudson Square overhaul proposed", Crain's NY

Struggling for professional quality images of your downtown? Finding great photos of your district for your marketing materials and website can sometimes be a challenge - so why not sponsor a photo competition? In Port Washington, Long Island, the Business Improvement District is sponsoring just such a competition. The contest will include prizes of $1,000, $500 and $300 dollars. "BID Announces Photo Contest", Port Washington Patch

Foundations making their mark in Downtown Pittsburgh, PA. The Colcom Foundation recently committed $500,000 to help restore the historic storefronts of small Downtown buildings and recruit new retailers into them.The loans will range from $5,000 to $30,000 and the money can be used to install lighting, awnings and make other general facade improvements."Colcom Funds Grant for Downtown Retail", Pittsburgh Business Times