Over the years, the mission of BIDs has grown beyond sanitation and security to include services the city can’t or won’t pay for, such as planting shrubs or hiring musicians in an effort to create a welcoming street environment. But these landlord-controlled shadow governments are raising questions about the city’s ability to provide necessary services while highlighting the rewards and risks of privatizing public spaces.
BIDs have also become big businesses in their own right—Biederman is paid $586,000 a year to run BIDs around Bryant Park and West 34th Street, nearly three times what Mayor Bill de Blasio earns for running the entire city. Clearing litter from sidewalks and gutters accounts for only 25% of the $130 million the city’s BIDs spend each year. They also promote member businesses, serve as liaisons to government services and decorate shopping districts during holiday seasons. “We keep the area clean, safe and marketed,” said Michael Lambert, executive director of the Bedford-Stuyvesant BID and co- chairman of the New York City BID Association.
But as BIDs grow in size and scope, so do complaints about them. “They are cartels for landlords,” said Moshe Adler, an adjunct professor of urban planning at Columbia University. “Make no mistake, BIDs may help small businesses when it suits them. But their fundamental role is advancing the interests of property owners.”