Farmingdale's Main Street transformed from a sleepy downtown to a bustling destination in less than a decade, but continuing that momentum will take more effort, officials and business owners say.
"It’s thriving right now, but we need to get ahead of this,” said Nick DeVito, a co-owner of Charlotte’s Desserts, an ice cream and frozen yogurt shop with a speakeasy inside. The solution, he said, is the formation of a Business Improvement District.
The village board of trustees voted last month to establish a Farmingdale BID, which Mayor Ralph Ekstrand said was the beginning of a state-mandated process that will take about a year to complete and will include creating a map of the district, public hearings and another vote.
New BIDs require approval by the New York State comptroller's office.
The districts are funded through fees assessed on properties within the district that are generally passed on to businesses that lease commercial properties.
DeVito said the district would be a way to spread out the costs of events such as Farmingdale’s Music on Main summer concert series, which is now paid for by a handful of businesses, including Devito’s.
“You’ve got 10 people paying for this,” DeVito said. “Let’s spread it out over 100 buildings.”
Ekstrand, too, said a BID shares the costs of events and programs that benefit all merchants.
“With a BID, everybody is taxed,” Ekstrand said.
The Farmingdale BID would be looking to raise $100,000 to $120,000 annually to pay for the street concerts, marketing, security and snow removal, DeVito said.
Jim Malatras, president of the Rockefeller Institute of Government, an Albany think tank, said BIDs muddy the traditional role of local governance because the boards are not subject to general elections as municipal legislative bodies are.
“They’re a public-private partnership, but you give them assessment authority over everyone. That is removing some of those decision-making processes from traditional elected representation,” Malatras said.
But despite being insulated from the will of the voters, Business Improvement Districts have worked in many places, he said.
“If you do look at the city of New York and other places, they are successful because there are particularized needs, in particularized communities, that need special or enhanced services,” Malatras said.
The New York State Comptroller’s office lists 128 BIDs on its website, including 16 on Long Island, including Patchogue and Huntington.
Farmingdale business owners said they were not aware of the proposed BID, but liked the idea.
“I would be in favor of it, if it was a minimal cost,” said Kent Seelig, owner of the Farmingdale Meat Market on Main Street. “Anything that’s good for the village is good for us.”
Seelig said he wasn’t aware of the proposed BID and that village officials "haven’t sent out any information about it.”
Russell Gobetz, manager at Brickwell of Farmingdale, a bicycle shop on Main Street, said he hadn’t heard about the proposal, but would be in favor of the BID if it helps attract business.
"It depends on how much return you get on the investment,” Gobetz said.
Business Improvement Districts can have control over:
- construction and installation of landscaping, planting, and park areas
- construction of ramps, sidewalks, plazas and pedestrian malls
- construction of parking lot and parking garage facilities
- construction of bus stop shelters, benches and street furniture
- enhanced sanitation services
- services promoting and advertising activities within the district
- marketing education for businesses within the district
- services to enhance the security of persons and property within the district.
Source: New York State General Municipal Law Article 19-A