April 3, 2017 By Christian Murray
A small crowd of about 30 turned out for the 2017 Sunnyside Shines Business Improvement District annual meeting Thursday, representing the lowest attendance for such a meeting in years.
The event was not heavily promoted. It was not listed on the organization’s website, nor was there any mention of it on social media. The attendees who did show up were primarily current board members or Sunnyside Shines employees/volunteers, with a handful of people representing elected officials or government agencies.
Unlike previous years, no elected officials showed.
The number of attendees mattered since the event is largely about the election of the board.
The Sunnyside Shines board determines how the BID’s $490,000 budget is spent. Most of that money– $360,000—comes via assessments/fees that are levied on the approximately 300 businesses in the district, which covers most of Queens Blvd. and Greenpoint Avenue in Sunnyside. Most business owners pay more than $1,000 per year.
Sunnyside Shines bylaws—like all BIDs– require that the property owners must be in the majority. The board, at present, consists of 10 landlords, five representatives of the city, 3 business owners/tenants and one resident.
Most of the members of the board have been on it since its 2008 founding, with property owners John Vogt (representing White Castle), Chris Winchester and Artie Weiner being chair, vice chair and treasurer respectively since its inception.
Only property owners within the confines of the BID area can vote for who represents the 10 landlord spots. This year there were just eight votes cast for those spots. Therefore, based on a mere eight votes, the 10 commercial landlords—the board majority– did not change.
The business owners, who are the ones funding the BID through assessments, then elected who was to represent them.
One of the three businesses on the board is TD Bank, which is classified as a business since it is a tenant. The other two businesses are Bings Hallmark and the newly-elected Maggie Mae’s. Maggie Mae’s replaced Venturo on the board since it recently closed.
There were only three or four business owners at the annual meeting—out of 300 businesses in the district. Therefore, just three or four votes determined who got to represent the businesses.
Given the low election turnout at most of the BID’s annual meetings, the board is unlikely to change in the future, given the lack of votes and the fact there are no term limits.
Vogt—who doesn’t own property in the district, run a business or live in Sunnyside– was again named chairman for the tenth year.
Vogt is on the board representing White Castle. Despite retiring from the fast food chain, White Castle has furnished him with a letter, he said, saying that he can continue to represent the company. That has met the approval of city officials and the board continues to back him as chair.
Vogt says he wants to stay on as chair since he helped shepherd the organization into being when he was the former president of the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce and that he has deep ties—that go back to his childhood in Elmhurst—with the Sunnyside business community.
Vogt opened the meeting and then introduced attendees to the new executive director Jaime Faye-Bean, who replaced Rachel Thieme in February.
Faye-Bean provided an account of the BID’s 2016 year—discussing the organization’s achievements and events, such as the Taste of Sunnyside, Sunnyside Restaurant Week and the two promotions for retailers/service providers—namely “Shop Sunnyside” and the “Holiday Passport.” She also gave a recap of the events that took place in the plazas below the 40th and 46th Street train stations as well as the installation of tree guards and banners.
Faye-Bean reminded the attendees that the BID’s mission is to promote a safe, welcoming and vibrant commercial district in Sunnyside. She said that the Sunnyside Shines district incorporates those businesses that are located on Queens Boulevard from 38th Street to 50th Street, as well as Greenpoint Avenue (from Queens Boulevard to mid-block between 42nd and 43rd Streets).
Faye-Bean said that 600 people attended last year’s Taste of Sunnyside, which was located under the 7 train for the third year running. She said the event was a success, adding that 95 percent of attendees who filled out a survey after the Taste said they planned to go to one of the participating restaurant that they had tried for the first time. Twelve of the 25 restaurants listed in last year’s Taste were BID businesses.
Faye-Bean said the BID’s restaurant week, which took place in September, was a success with 29 restaurants participating. She said that 85 percent of the participating restaurants—many were located outside the BID area– said it helped bring them new customers and increase business.
She said the BID launched its “Shop Sunnyside” card in May and that 30 businesses had signed on offering discounts to shoppers who display the card (see discounts). How well that program has fared was not mentioned.
Faye-Bean also discussed the Shop Local Holiday Passport that was launched last year that promoted 19 BID businesses during the holiday season. The idea was for shoppers to get a flier stamped—much like a passport—with three stamps making them eligible for a prize. The fliers/passports– promoting the participating businesses–were mailed to 25,000 Sunnyside/Woodside addresses.
How well that program did was also not discussed.
The BID did hand out two awards. William Chaca and Norma Sinchi received an award for enhancing the district– called the Neighborhood Wow Award– for establishing Coffee Tossy, a Greenpoint Avenue cafe. James Kaechele, with the New York Tree Trust, won the “Community Partnership Award” for his work helping the BID add tree guards and tree pits.
Vogt and Faye-Bean were asked whether businesses inside the BID were getting an adequate return on the $1,000-plus fees they pay each year—particularly the retail and service providers (hairdressers, barber shops, clothing stores) that make up most of the businesses in the district.
Vogt questioned whether the businesses paid as much as $1,000 per year. However, it was explained to him that the BID assessments generate $360,000 per year and there are about 300 businesses in the district.
“I don’t know of a business paying $1,000 per year in Sunnyside to the BID,” Vogt said. “When we set this up…we were very sensitive as to our budget and how it would break down by store.”
The assessments have gone up since the formation of the BID. For instance, the BID originally generated $300,000 per year in fees from businesses.
Vogt discussed the ways in which the BID has helped retail and service businesses.
“We come up with the shopping guides,” Vogt said, although he conceded that it has been a challenge to find ways to help these businesses.
“I have to tell you from being at the BID from the very beginning… that a lot of business owners just don’t have time for you,” he said. “I would go in and say ‘What kind of services would you be interested in?’ and many would not talk to me. Many years later we are still trying to break the ice with them,” Vogt said.
A good portion of BID funds do get spent on cleaning the streets within the Sunnyside Shines district, through graffiti removal and dedicated workers who sweep the sidewalks and empty trash.
However, this work is done in many areas with taxpayer funds allocated by council members who bring on DOE Fund workers (or similar groups) to clean. This has been the case in sections of Astoria, Long Island City and Woodside for years. In those areas, small businesses are not subsidizing the cost through assessments—it’s the overall taxpayer.
Vogt said that the DOE Fund—covered by the city—cannot be relied upon. With Sunnyside Shines there is a pool of money that guarantees the service.
However, Vogt said the BID is worthwhile. He said the BID has enhanced the area and turned Sunnyside into a destination. He said the BID is what brought the holiday lights back to Queens Boulevard and Greenpoint Avenue which has been well-received by all.
A better Sunnyside district is good for all businesses he said.