Growing pains challenge Hub BID

Vendors sell clothing in front of the 149/Third Ave. subway. Photo: Joe Hirsch

At a meeting with directors of the city’s Business Improvement Districts (BIDs), NYPD commissioner James O’Neill assured Michael Brady, the new executive director of the Hub/Third Avenue BID, that he understood his pain.

“You don’t have to tell me,” O’Neill told Brady. “Every one here has one issue. You have all of them.”

On a February morning Brady stood at a panoramic window in the BID’s office on East 148h Street and Third Avenue overlooking the long-unfinished Roberto Clemente Plaza construction site. He tallied some of the well-documented headaches felt around the Hub, the second-busiest place in New York City after Times Square: Drug users from local methadone clinics shooting up and using local streets as their personal bathroom. Violent gangs fueling rising crime. Open construction pits where long-delayed beautification projects sit unfinished. Illegal vendors hocking everything from counterfeit cosmetics to used clothing. All set against a frenzy of new residential development.

Earlier that morning the BID responded to rumors that federal agents were shaking down straphangers at the 149th Street/Third Avenue stop and demanding peoples’ personal documents. As it turned out, the shakedowns were being conducted not by federal immigration agents but imposters using President Donald Trump’s threats to ramp up deportation of undocumented immigrants as a way to intimidate MTA riders to hand over confidential information.

Though the scammers were gone by the time Brady and his security staff got there, the scare the incident  created was an example of the hectic pace of life in the Hub.

“Never have I seen an area in such chaos,” said Brady, 33, an Albany native who came to the city as an undergraduate at Manhattan College in Riverdale and moved to Port Morris 12 years ago. Until last November he was SoBRO’s director of special projects and government relations.

The Third Avenue BID, which extends along a narrow thread from 148th to 153rd Street between Third and Bergen avenues, is tasked with providing sanitation, security, marketing and job training for its 47 member property owners and 200 businesses. Brady hopes to eventually expand its reach west to Morris Avenue, east to Brook Avenue, north and south to 158th and 146th streets.

Construction on Roberto Clemente Plaza in the Hub. Photo: Joe Hirsch

The looming effects of rapid development on businesses and residents weighs heavily on his mind these days, Brady says. He echoes a concern frequently heard in light of all the newly planned housing: where are the upgrades to public transit, roads and infrastructure that should keep pace with all the new people who will be moving in in the next few years?

A recent study he took part in concluded that the city was way off when it estimated last year that Mott Haven, Melrose and Port Morris will be home to 18-20,000 new residents by 2040.

“At the accelerated speed we’re seeing now, we’ll see that by 2027,” he said. “If the population grows that fast we have not kept the infrastructure on pace with a population like that.”

Not all landlords and business owners are on board with the BID’s mission. Many local landlords, Brady said, think it should be up to their tenants—not a nonprofit—to clean the streets in front of their buildings. Some small businesses refuse to upgrade their technology to take credit cards.

But quality-of-life issues are a constant irritant for all of the businesses.

Abel Diaz has run 800Fixit at the corner of East 149th and Third Avenue for 28 years. He pays $13,000 monthly for a 250 square foot storefront that was cramped with customers on a weekday morning.

“I have never even seen the lawlessness that goes on,” he said. “If you’re a shopper, your first exposure is the smell of K2 and marijuana. It’s got to be coming from the mayor. He’s got to be saying (to police) ‘look the other way.’”

Diaz says he recently paid someone on the street $20 to remove a pile of human excrement from in front of his store.

“Rather than signs that say ‘curb your dog,’ we need signs that say ‘curb yourself,’” he said. “It’s Mogadishu here. $13,000 a month and I have to deal with this.”

Kitty-corner from 800Fixit, a security guard employed by the BID stood outside a Bank of America ATM said a big part of his job is helping pedestrians feel safe.

“There are no more cops. Patrols drive by, they don’t get out,” complained Nicholas Pierre, pointing to a gathering of panhandlers. “We move them, they come back.

Although at least a couple of franchises are on track to move into the district soon, Brady says, his organization will continue to work with small businesses to help them draw customers and compete.

“The more you have going on, the more crime is reduced,” he said. “It doesn’t matter to me if businesses are doing balloon animals or ballets.”