BID backers work on plan revisions

Print More

A business improvement district proposal is expected to come before City Council for a vote sometime in the second half of 2024. The proposal will be submitted after it is shared with and has the support of affected property owners, a recent update from the Partnership for Downtown Rochester indicates.

A draft plan was released in late November 2023 and underwent a public review period until Dec. 31, which included a survey and community open house. Using that information, PDR, which is responsible for the BID formation efforts, has been revising the plan since January.

“The BID Formation Committee is working to revise the draft district plan based on recurring themes expressed and additional community input,” a PDR statement reads.

Conversely, at a City Council meeting last week, Council member Willie Lightfoot submitted a letter from 30 businesses and property owners that expressed discontent with the BID push and urged the Council to reject the draft.

“We feel the public, including many street-level businesses in whose name the BID is being proposed, have not been adequately informed or consulted on the pros and cons of a BID structure or about possible alternatives to an additional tax district,” Lightfoot read from the letter.

The current efforts at creating a downtown BID began with the 2018 ROC the Riverway Phase I Vision Plan. A BID already exists in the High Falls neighborhood, north of center city. An attempt to create one downtown failed in 2014.

The boundary lines for November’s draft mostly include the area encircled by the Inner Loop wherein a special assessment would be levied on slightly more than 400 properties. An analysis of the properties by the Beacon estimated the total amount collected to be just over $2 million. Funds collected from Rochester Gas and Electric Corp, Buckingham Properties, the city of Rochester, the Gallina Development Corp. and Monroe County government would make up 50 percent of that figure.

BIDs function by collecting a special assessment from property owners who use that funding for beautification, events, advertising and more. Proponents of this project say it will ensure a consistent level of services in the downtown area and help spur further investment.

Supporters include real estate developers such as Gallina Development and Buckingham Properties, and others like the Urban League of Rochester, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield and Visit Rochester, as well local lawmakers such as Mayor Malik Evans and Monroe County Executive Adam Bello.

The biggest pushback against these efforts has come from the BID Education Committee, a group of activists and artists who have garnered support from Metro Justice, the Federation of Social Workers, VOCAL New York, the Northeast Neighborhood Community Council and others.

Downtown businesses, such as Big City Deli and Pizzeria, Strombolis, and the Spirit Room have posted “No BID” signs in their establishments. City Council members Mary Lupien and Stanley Martin have posted on social media indicating their alignment with the group as well.

The main concerns of this group are the BID governing structure, the additional costs to small business owners, the potential for overbearing policing practices, and the displacement of vulnerable populations.

Of the 364 survey responses to the draft, the majority were either residents of the area or employees downtown from ZIP codes directly within or just on the outskirts of the drafted area. Residents from Brighton and Pittsford were also among the top ZIP code respondents.

The most popular topics for responses included supporting small businesses, creating more community activity, and ensuring safety in the area. The survey summary also noted where opposition to a BID was commented on, although it was a minority of responses each time.

For their part, members of the BID Education Committee have called the entire community feedback process “rushed” and “an exercise in manufacturing consent.”

Since that draft plan was released, BID opponents have also been active. The BID Education Committee in January released a series of videos titled “Local Voices Speaking Up.”

Those videos, which include people who work, live and play downtown, are similar in style to PDR’s series of “Local Voices” videos released in 2022. However, the participants are critical of BID efforts instead of supportive.

Most recently, the BID Education Committee hosted a partial screening of “In Jackson Heights” with a panel discussion. The 2015 film documents the process of gentrification in a Queens neighborhood and features residents protesting a BID formation.

In addition, the organization has begun “Phone Zap” events where participants call City Council members en masse to voice concerns.

Jacob Schermerhorn is a Rochester Beacon contributing writer and data journalist. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *