Thursday, June 3, 2010

Flushing Business Improvement District criticized as "politicized" and "abused"

Two BID officials jump ship amid debate over sprawling development

Wednesday, June 2nd 2010, 5:33 PM
Caught in the middle of an acrimonious debate over a sprawling development set for downtown Flushing, two of the local Business Improvement District's top officials have jumped ship.
Chairman Jim Gerson quit Thursday, two weeks after Executive Director Mabel Law announced she would step down. Both have held their posts since 2003.
"I think I'm better off outside the BID at this point," Gerson said yesterday. He has been a vocal opponent of Flushing Commons - a 5-acre complex of condos and stores to be built on the site of a municipal parking lot on Union St. Gerson's resignation came moments after the BID voted down a proposal to commission an economic impact study of the project.
The city has allocated $2 million to a business assistance program, but the study would have determined how much each of the area's hundreds of small businesses would need to withstand construction, Gerson said.
The objection to the study was made by project developer and BID member Michael Meyer. "The BID mandate is for street cleaning, marketing and tourism," Meyer said. "It's not for political lobbying."
Now that he has cut ties with the BID, Gerson said he will be able to "speak more candidly" about his objections to the project. He has hired lobbyist Richard Lipsky and is meeting with City Council members as the project makes its way toward a Council vote at the end of the summer.
"I honestly think that the project could destroy the community," Gerson said. Law, who did not return calls for comment, has not been quite as vocal about her reasons for stepping down. But in the months leading up to her May 13 resignation, Law helped the BID draft resolutions calling for a business assistance plan, among other things.
Both Gerson and Law threw their support behind the resolutions, much to the dismay of project supporters. "After we passed the resolutions, they made Mabel's life very, very difficult," Gerson said. Meyer called the measures further evidence of the BID's politicization.
"The purpose of the BID was being abused," he said. Law has said she will not leave the BID until her successor is appointed, which means she will likely still be in office when the city Economic Development Corp. unveils its plans for the business assistance program. Councilman Peter Koo has also secured between $100,000 and $300,000 in additional funding for a supplemental assistance program, said spokesman James McClelland.
"This project is the biggest project that has come to Flushing in a while," Law told the Daily News last week before Gerson's resignation. "How can you really tell who is going to lose business?"

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