Dozens of business owners along Mermaid Ave. and Neptune Ave. are petitioning against an effort by the Alliance for Coney Island to facilitate a Business Improvement District (BID), which would require business and property owners in Coney Island to pay additional taxes.
The Alliance has been organizing meetings and promoting the BID, which they say could be used on products and services like community marketing, tourism services, beautification, and streetscaping (including holiday lighting, flower boxes, and trees). The Alliance stresses that the tax burden would primarily be placed on commercial property owners and that residential-only properties would only be required to pay $1 per year in taxes. The city’s Department of Small Business Services ultimately oversees the formation of BIDs.
According to an Alliance for Coney Island presentation, the BID proposal targets properties stretching from West 37th St. to the area near the aquarium. It also covers as far north as the Home Depot and Stop & Shop on the other side of the creek.
BIDs are common around the city — there are 23 in Brooklyn alone, including one in Brighton Beach — and the Alliance claims that a BID “can help direct us toward a more prosperous future, preserving the neighborhood’s greatest attributes and creating economic stability for generations to come.” But the effort to bring one to Coney Island has been met with resistance from business owners who feel that the funds would not help them and that the Alliance for Coney Island has the wrong ambitions.
“We feel that with them forming the BID, it would be a disadvantage to local businesses,” said Edwin Cosme, who owns “Hair For U” salon and other businesses in Coney Island. “How do we know whether the amusement park is going to benefit more?”
Cosme and local resident Daniel Ioannou, both of whom are against the BID, went to other local businesses on Mermaid Ave. and Neptune Ave. to inform them of the details surrounding the BID and to gather signatures for a petition against it. Cosme said he warned businesses that they could potentially be taxed six percent of their annual real estate property tax.
The petition, which was shown to Coney Island News, has at least 30 signatures from business owners thus far. It reads as follows:
“We, the business owners and residents of Coney Island, petition The New York City Department of Small Business Services to halt the process of the formation of a Business Improvement District (BID) that was initiated solely by “The Alliance of Coney Island”. The business owners of Mermaid Avenue and Neptune Avenue did not seek out the assistance of The New York City Department of Small Business Services nor The Alliance of Coney Island.
The additional tax burden and loss of autonomy derived from a potential BID is excessive from any foreseeable benefits.
We, demand The New York City Department of Small Business Services to fully cease any actions that may further the process of a formation of a BID.”
“The business owners of Mermaid & Neptune Avenues should determine their own future,” said Ioannou, who believes development currently ongoing in the neighborhood will ultimately be sufficient enough to prevent the need for a BID. “Elected officials who once eagerly hung their campaign signs in the shop windows of businesses must begin representing their constituents on the matter and openly voice opposition against a BID,” he added.
Serafina Lemberg of “A Merryland Health Center” said she is not convinced that the BID will help her business and said she can’t afford any additional taxes.
“You know how the insurance is paying today. Sometimes you can’t even collect co-payments from the patients, and yet we’re treating them anyway,” she said. “We don’t have it, I’m sorry. We don’t have it. They want to ride out on the taxes we don’t have.”
Steve Wilensky of Wilensky Hardware said one of the reasons why he is against the BID is because he witnessed in years past how the Chamber of Commerce controlled the amusement area — and he’s afraid a similar situation is on the horizon.
“Now that the Alliance is trying to start the BID, I can see that it’s going to end up being controlled by the amusements again,” he said. “I don’t see how a BID is going to help me. All it’s going to do is increase my real estate tax.”
Some businesses are on the fence and remain undecided about the potential impact of a BID. Nino Russo, who owns Gargiulo’s and serves as a board member of the Alliance, offered a brighter outlook.
“The Alliance is working hard to get Coney Island moving in the right direction and helping businesses get on their feet on Mermaid Avenue,” said Russo, who, despite his optimism, said he still has not officially determined whether he is in favor or against the BID.
Dominick Concilio, owner of Citywide Income Tax on Mermaid Ave., said he wants to hear more specific details before rushing to judgement. He is particularly wary of a situation in which businesses in one part of Coney Island are footing the bill for businesses in another part.
“If you look at Coney Island, Neptune is like its own world, Mermaid is its own world, and Surf is its own world. You’ve got all these different parts of this 11224 zip code that are really distinctively different from each other. They’re just different worlds. If they’re going to gather all of the funds from all of these areas, what are they going to do with these funds? If they decide to put, say, street lights on Mermaid Ave., why are people on Neptune paying for it?”
The Alliance for Coney Island’s Executive Director, Alexandra Silversmith, rejected the idea that the funds would be more geared towards the amusement area. “There’s literally no basis in any of it,” she said.
Silversmith defended the effort to bring a BID to Coney Island and touted it as a key way to fund and improve the neighborhood.
“I certainly believe that it would create a better business environment and shopping environment for businesses and residents,” she said. “Our goal is to bring growth to the businesses that are here.”
A second BID Planning Committee meeting will take place on Wednesday at 10 a.m. at Gargiulo’s restaurant. BID discussions are still in the early stages and a budget has not been set yet at this time. Small Business Services said a proposal has yet to be submitted.
Silversmith said the Alliance hopes the BID process can spark discussion about what is needed in the neighborhood.
“There’s nothing set in stone about this process; it’s a really fluid process,” she said. “We really just want people to engage and to have that conversation about whether there are issues in need.”
Community Board 13 District Manager Eddie Mark stressed that if there is a BID, everyone should be treated equally and those who have concerns should voice them at the next meeting.
“It’s a good initiative and it can improve the area,” Mark said.
City Councilmember Mark Treyger said he understands that there are two sides to the issue and hopes community members can be patient throughout what he says will be a long process.
“As the planning meetings continue, it is important that local business owners and potential members remain well-informed and fully understand the proposal and everything it entails before deciding where they stand,” he said. “The planning meeting on Wednesday morning is a great opportunity for community members to learn more and ask questions.”