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Westchester Square Merchants continue push for a business improvement district

Although the process to create a business improvement district in Westchester Square is moving along, officials are still making efforts to get all businesses in the area involved with the BID’s formation.

John Bonizio, owner of Metro Optics Eyewear and chairman of the steering committee to form the BID, and other officials with the Westchester Square Merchants Association have been sending out mailings and setting up meetings with property owners that have not cast a vote on whether or not to create a BID. Officials want to make sure everyone in the proposed district is fully aware of the formation and involved in the process.

“The revitalization of the Square is everybody’s responsibility,” Bonizio said. “What I’m mostly concerned about is not what the vote is going to be, but after it is legislated, people need to get involved. There needs to be a board of directors that deals with the issues, made up of business and property owners. Everybody has got to be part of the solution.”

To form a business district, the city requires that a majority of property owners vote in favor of its formation. So far, 51 out of 90 properties in the proposed district have voted in favor - a clear majority. But 39 property owners have not yet voted. Votes were cast during the two public hearings held in November and December.

The proposed district will run along East Tremont, from Lurting Avenue to Westchester Square Avenue, and along Williamsbridge Road, from Silver Street to Westchester Avenue. It will focus on government advocacy for the Square, street and sidewalk cleaning services, enhanced security and lighting, business promotions, lowered vacancy rates and increased foot-traffic.

According to the BID proposal, the district will run on a $320,000 annual budget, with the majority of the funds going towards maintenance, marketing and the BID director’s salary. Assessments are determined based on the size of the storefront and cannot be raised without notice from the BID board of directors and public hearings.

The 51 votes in favor were enough to send the proposal from the hands of the steering committee to the city Department of Planning, where it will be reviewed for several months before it hits the desk of the borough president. Lastly, it will be reviewed by the city council and must receive the mayor’s okay before it’s approved.

If the district is established, all businesses will be charged an annual assessment and will receive the services, regardless of how they initially voted on the proposal.

Bonizio said that all of the no votes that have been cast are for financial reasons. With the tough economic climate, many landlords said they are reluctant to assume the assessment and would not feel comfortable passing the fee along to their tenants.

However, according to Bonizio, nearly all the tenants are in favor of the BID. Though their votes as tenants and business owners do not count in forming the district, he said most are willing to take on the added fee if it will ensure a successful future for the Square.

“It’s penny-wise, pound foolish people, probably who have probably inherited their properties that are against this. They see this as an expense or a tax, and not an investment in the area,” Bonizio said. “But you’ve got to make the investment to fix the problems. If the windows are broken and the roof is leaking, you’ve got tomake the investment.”

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