Feb. 28, 2011 By Christian Murray
A heated dispute between Sunnyside’s two leading business groups has caused such tension that the two groups are unlikely to work together in the near future.
The clash is over how the profits are being split stemming from the Taste of Sunnyside, which was put on by the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce, a volunteer membership-based organization, and Sunnyside Shines, the business improvement district (BID), which is a legal entity in a set geographic location which taxes its property owners, who in turn tax their merchant tenants.
The Taste of Sunnyside was viewed as a great success, drawing hundreds of people throughout Queens to sample the food of this area’s top restaurants. The event was a hit and was profitable, resulting in a $1,600 windfall.
Members of the Chamber say that the profits, if any, were to be split 50-50. Meanwhile, Sunnyside Shines claims that no such agreement exists and has held on to all of the proceeds. The BID announced that instead of splitting the leftover monies, it would “roll the money over” for Taste of Sunnyside 2011.
“We entered into a gentleman’s agreement that the profits would be split,” said Ira Greenberg, president of the Chamber. However, he added, since there wasn’t a signed contract, the BID argued that the Chamber was not entitled to its share. Chamber restaurants had other complaints, but the issue came to its current heated impasse when the BID announced its unilateral decision about how to make use of the funds.
The profit from the event was $1,600, which was to be split $800 a piece, Greenberg said. He said he sent a letter to the BID in December requesting the funds and nothing came from it.
Many of the chamber’s restaurant owners were upset that there was a battle over the $800. They took it as an affront, claiming that it diminished their role in the overall success of the event. Some of the restaurant owners are saying that they are not going to participate in the 2011 Taste of Sunnyside and that they want the Chamber to have its own separate event.
But James Bray, the executive director of the BID, insisted that no such agreement existed. Furthermore, he added, “We are not talking about a lot of money here. I’ll cut them a check for $800.” Then, out of frustration, he said, “They didn’t do much; I did most of the work.”
Most concede that Bray worked tirelessly on the event. However, the Chamber argues without the Chamber restaurants there would have been no event. Furthermore, the Chamber argues that every restaurant paid to participate, and supplied their own food and serving staff.
Greenberg said that $800 is a significant amount of money for the Chamber since it has a budget of about $20,000. Meanwhile, the BID has a budget of about $300,000.
Greenberg said that the restaurants wanted the entire $1,600 to be used toward the re-issue of the Sunnyside Restaurant map which “would benefit all restaurants immediately.”
However, Bray thought the whole dispute over the profits had been put to rest. He said that a meeting was held on Jan. 19 that included Greenberg and that they all agreed to roll over the profits held by the BID for the 2011 Taste of Sunnyside event.
Greenberg confirmed that the Jan. 19 meeting took place. However, he said he that he gave conditional approval to roll over the funds, saying that he had to confirm the agreement with the Chamber’s board. The Chamber and the BID have not discussed the profit split since, Greenberg said.
Ramiro Mendez, the owner of DeMole Restaurant, said he was upset that the BID is keeping the funds. “They kept the money and have made a big fight out of it,” he said, adding that he is considering a separate event where the proceeds are donated to charity.
Many argue that there is a lack of trust between the two groups.
Meanwhile, Bray said he wants to partner with the Chamber on future events. “Doesn’t it make sense that we all work together?” he said.
Greenberg expressed a similar sentiment. However, the dispute has left a bitter taste in the mouths of many of his members, he said.