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Big BIDness on Washington Avenue! Merchants weigh tax to cover street improvements

The Brooklyn Paper
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Merchants on a neglected Prospect Heights avenue say business will boom if the street becomes more clean, lively, and organized — and they want to start collecting an annual fee from all landlords on the thoroughfare to make it happen.

A 10-block strip of Washington Avenue between Atlantic Avenue and Eastern Parkway has witnessed the opening of many new stores in the last four years, but is still plagued by 24 vacant storefronts that advocates say could be improved by forming a business improvement district to push the street in the right direction.

“Washington Avenue is a lovely spot that is really evolving,” said Dana Ottey, the president of the Washington Avenue-Prospect Heights Merchants Association and the owner of Awedacity boutique on the strip. “But we need to let people know that we’re here. It will be much more inviting once it’s cleaned-up and better lit.”

The merchants association hopes the prospective BID — which recently formed a steering committee — will provide the services to the block that the city does not: sweeping and cleaning up trash from sidewalks, stoops and tree pits, setting up holiday lights, augmenting street fairs, and making the block greener and more plant-friendly.

But that doesn’t come for free: the group would levy a tax against Washington Avenue landlords to cover the services.

The BID’s bid requires the support of more than half of the property owners on the strip — and once more than enough landlords sign off and the city council gives it a greenlight, every property on the street must pay in.

New taxes are seldom a popular proposition, but some merchants say the fees — in the ballpark of $1,000 per year for every business, Ottey estimates — will go far to better the avenue.

“A BID is primarily a city financier, but we fail to receive appropriate city services on this street,” said Jerry Walsh, the owner of Mayday Hardware, who was initially opposed the idea until a neighborhood activist won him over with her passionate pleas.

“She has totally convinced me to jump on board,” he said.

Ottey says the corridor’s prime location — the first direct route between Atlantic Avenue and Eastern Parkway for traffic traveling east — and proximity to high-stature attractions like the Brooklyn Museum and Botanic Garden make it ideal for an even more pronounced economic surge.

“We are the gateway from Atlantic Avenue to Eastern Parkway,” said Ottey, who says the BID drive was inspired by a successful group on Myrtle Avenue. “Why not arrange where we can control what’s happening in our immediate area?”

Reach reporter Eli Rosenberg at erosenberg@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-2531. And follow him at twitter.com/emrosenberg.

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