Soho residents are worried that the remedy for tourist hordes may be worse than the disease. Faced with sidewalk choking crowds of dawdling, architecture gawking, window shopping, six-abreast meandering visitors from around the world, Soho neighbors want something done to keep their sidewalks clean and reduce the number of vendors hawking bongs and knit hats in front of their buildings. But a supposed solution to their problems, the formation of a Soho Business Improvement District (BID), rankles residents more than the polyglot crowds who squat on their stoops. As in many residential and commercial districts around the city, a Soho BID would be a public-private partnership tasked with sanitation, marketing, and beautification. But to opponents, a BID is nothing more than an undemocratic layer of governance that will answer primarily to the large commercial real estate firms with stakes in the neighborhood, whose interests are not always aligned with those of residents.
The large number of visitors who visit Soho generate a lot of garbage; and street-cleaning is what led philanthropist Henry Buhl to form his first Association of Community Employment program, or ACE, in Soho. The Soho ACE is a vocational training program that employs homeless men to perform street sweeping duties, and that is what they did for the last 15 years in the neighborhood. Recently, however, the charitable donations that funded Soho ACE dropped off and left the organization with a large budget deficit, prompting the proposed formation of the Soho BID, which would have the power to assess mandatory fees to fund its $550,000 budget.
Soho's Community Board 2 is largely against the institution of a BID, but most politicians are being strategically mum. Opposition by residents is not monolithic?many residents see a need to find a solution to the problems that a BID would address?but opponents are organized and vociferous. Expect a raucous public hearing before the City Council this March, when the matter will be discussed.
· Critics of Soho Proposal Ask, You Call This Improvement? [NYT]
· SoHo NO BID [official]
· ACE New York [official]