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161st Street BID grows up

The long-dormant 161st Street Business Improvement District is finally operational, thanks to excitement generated by the new Yankee Stadium and 161st Street rezone passed by the City Council on Wednesday, September 30.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed the 161st Street BID into law in 2005 but when leadership faltered and property owners waffled, it floundered. BIDs offer supplemental sanitation and public safety, promotions and beautification.

The city appointed former teacher and dropout program administrator Cary Goodman to re-launch the BID in July. Goodman, raised on Morris Avenue, has already partnered with the South Bronx Film Festival at Pregones Theater and the borough president.

On Sunday, September 27, the BID hosted a Hispanic Baseball Festival and an exhibition from the Hispanic Heritage Baseball Museum at Lou Gehrig Plaza. The free event featured musicians Luisito Rey and DJ Suave, plus baseball films “21” and “Sugar.” Legendary ballplayer Orlando Cepeda stopped by.

Goodman sees baseball as key to the success of businesses on 161st Street and River Avenue. Thanks to the Blue Bombers, his BID is unqiue.

“When asked to identify the heart of baseball, most Americans reply Yankee Stadium,” Goodman said.

The ball club represents a boon and a challenge for Goodman, who plans to weave the Yankees into 161st Street life. The BID boasts other assets: proximity to mass transit, access to the Major Deegan Expressway and the Grand Concourse, four million wealthy baseball fans, lawyers and clerks who eat and shop near court. In terms of census stats, 161st Street is a poor neighborhood. In reality, the neighborhood is a mix.

“There are people drink $3 coffees, buy books and work out,” Goodman said. “One of my challenges is to find appropriate businesses: Starbucks, Barnes & Noble, New York Sports Club.”

Community Board 4 Jose Rodriguez agreed. Rodriguez hopes the BID and rezone will transform 161st Street into a true downtown, a sensible neighborhood for young professionals such as himself to reside. The rezone will allow 161st Street property owners to build and build up. The idea is a mid-rise corridor of office and residential buildings, plus ground floor retail.

Goodman has met with 15 to 20 business owners since July. The rezone will push some businesses out, said Dennis Terry, who chairs the BID board and the Mid-Bronx Senior Citizens Council. Terry expects the BID to bridge a gap between the city and small businesses on 161st Street, and to bind the businesses together.

Some properties owners opposed the BID re-launch; ten signed a petition submitted the Department of Finance, 161st Street Merchants Association consultant Anne Lindsey said. DOF didn’t respond to a request for comment.

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