A Forest Hills resident suggested the implementation of a Business Improvement District (BID) on Metropolitan Avenue at last week's Forest Hills Community and Civic Association meeting, handing out petitions and discussing the possible future for the community.
Under the premise, store owners and residents living within business district limits along Metropolitan Avenue would be required to pay a BID assessment including in their taxes.
The extra money, aside from BID operating costs, would go directly back into providing services like street maintenance, public safety, marketing for special events, capital improvements, landscaping, fundraising and commercial vacancy reduction.
The only catch is the neighborhood has to agree, and in the past, similar plans have not withstood the test.
Forest Hills American Legion Post chairman Gene Burch said the Metropolitan Avenue Business Association, which once served a similar purpose on the block decades ago, fell to the wayside as the community’s interests changed.
“We had a business association here 15 or 20 years ago, but business just got so bad and people started dropping out,” Burch remembered. “We were known as an ‘antique store avenue,’ but then we changed over to a ‘restaurant store avenue’ and the people didn’t really get involved.”
His eyebrow raised at the proposal last week, while the rest of the room filled with Forest Hills residents and some business owners sat back and listened, mostly curious.
In light of the success of surrounding BIDs, like the 82nd Street Market in Jackson Heights, the Woodhaven BID and a number of them in Jamaica, the proposal had audience members ready to sign on.
Following his financial and tax consultation presentation, Dan Olson was also taken by surprise with the proposal.
“There was a time when I moved here years ago in ’86 when it was a quiet, sleepy street, and it’s gotten better, and it could probably get even better,” Olson saids, considering the possibilities a BID could bring to the neighborhood. “I would be supportive of anything that develops the business district and adds variety around here.”
That is just what Michael Malpiedi, manager at Metropolitan Avenue's Villa Isabella, said is needed to get the neighborhood back on its feet, though he remains doubtful anything can repair what has been lost on his block.
“I don’t believe it would happen,” said Malpiedi, the restaurant’s manager of 13 years and Forest Hills resident for around 15 years. “There’s nothing to bring people to this little strip here other than if they want to just come here to this restaurant or that restaurant.”
Malpiedi looked toward neighboring communities that have already benefitted from organizing, and explained there are still many things that a BID simply cannot fix.
“They need some kind of anchor store where people can walk,” he explained. “You’ve got a false teeth store, a bunch of real estate stores and you’ve got lawyers who do nothing for foot traffic. You come down here at 8 o’clock and you could shoot a cannon down here and you wouldn’t hit a thing.”
Although he remains doubtful there will be support from any of the neighboring storeowners, he said he would be willing to sign up for anything that would get things back up and running again.
“It really needs a facelift; all of the stores,” he said. “When I first came here, we used to have flower pots and benches all along [the avenue]. Now there’s nothing.”
While she hasn’t been around long enough to see the full progression of her new block, Sandra Mandell, owner of the month-old Oliloli Arts and Crafts Studio on Metropolitan Avenue, already noticed problems she would like to see fixed.
“One issue I see is the garbage on the sidewalk, so maybe if there were more garbage pails, that could help,” Mandell suggested. She added she would also be interested in adding some holiday lighting and better signage to create a more inviting atmosphere.
Fully willing to pay an extra tax if it went to revitalizing the block, Mandell said she would love to grow her community like Austin Street.
“I want Metropolitan to be as popular as Austin Street, or a destination where our local residents come, but also people from all over Queens come,” she said.
Kim Tromba, owner of Edible Arrangements on Metropolitan Avenue, says that while the neighborhood needs some improvements and cosmetic enhancements, like flowering and decorations for the holidays, she thinks these issues could be tackled if the community worked together without necessarily paying into an organized BID.
“I don’t think it needs to cost too much money to do things down here,” Tromba said. “I think if restaurant owners and shopkeepers put in their own money, they could do things together.”
As the general consensus for change is felt throughout Metropolitan Avenue, business owners like Tromba still feel there is hope in regaining the lost sense of community.
“Metropolitan Avenue is one of the last areas with mom-and-pop shops,” she explained. “There’s architecture here, really great restaurants, and it’s a quaint little area that shouldn’t be overlooked and could really benefit from a cosmetic uplift.”