A four-year battle to prevent a controversial Business Improvement District from being established along the main commercial corridor in the immigrant communities of Jackson Heights and Corona ended recently in victory for neighborhood activists who had warned the project would accelerate gentrification in western Queens.
“It’s a very significant win,” said Tania Mattos, an organizer at Queens Neighborhoods United (QNU) and a native of Jackson Heights, a majority immigrant neighborhood. “We always kind of new we would win this because the community never supported this.”
There are presently 73 BIDs in New York City. They are private-public partnerships formed by a majority of property owners in a given neighborhood, which essentially privatize public services while hitting while levying additional fees on local residents. A larger police presence also come with BIDs.
The ill-fated Jackson Heights-Corona Business Improvement District would have run along Roosevelt Avenue — a noisy artery known for its authentic Latin culture and vibrant nightlife — from 81st to 114th Streets. It would have incorporated several important retail shopping areas and impacting hundreds of small businesses as well as street vendors who are an essential part of the neighborhoods fabric. Its defeat marks only the second time since the 1980s that a proposed BID has been stopped.
“Business Improvement Districts work in the interests of property owners,” explained Mattos. “Property owners demand that BIDs work with local law enforcement in ‘cleaning up’ an area to look and feel aesthetically pleasing. This means, getting rid of anything or anyone who is deemed unpleasant.”
Local City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras welcomed the proposal in 2013 as “a New Deal for Roosevelt Avenue” but the plan soon met vociferous opposition from QNU and other neighborhood groups.
Sergio Ruiz, an immigrant who came to Jackson Heights 16 years ago expressed his opposition, a sentiment echoed by many of his neighbors.
“They want to kick out all the neighbors, all the businesses so they can put in other people,” Ruiz said from the back of his bakery and grocery store La Estrella. “They want to improve the neighborhood, and improving it means kicking us out to put in another type of people and another type of business.”
Even with the defeat of the BID, major real estate development projects are in the works across Queens.
Hector Marquez, owner of the Manhattan Cocktail Lounge, remains uncertain like many other small business owners about his future in the neighborhood. His rent will likely increase after his current two-year lease runs out, as Jackson Heights continues attracting new upper-middle class residents who the BID sought to attract in the first place.
“If I have to move, where?” Marquez asked.