February 20th my colleague District Leader Kim Moscaritolo and I hosted a forum on retail blight on the Upper East Side and what can be done about it. It was a huge success, and we heard from constituents, elected officials, and community groups about ways the City and State – and, more importantly, residents – can help support small businesses and keep our streets vibrant.
- Mr. Fine explained that the way the federal tax code treats treats commercial property income reduces the urgency of landlords to find a tenant when the property goes vacant. There was unanimous support among the attendees that this should be reversed and we should levy an additional tax on vacant storefronts to compensate for the cost they impose on the neighborhood. It is possible this could be done in a way that keeps the overall levy on commercial landlords the same, so they do not pass the additional taxes on to their small business tenants.
- There were mixed feelings among the audience about imposing stabilization of commercial rents, with many people believing this would shut out new businesses and reduce the dynamism needed to have a thriving retail economy.
- BP Brewer explained that right now the City does not even have a good understanding of the extent of retail vacancies. In response, I gave a brief demonstration of a volunteer-based initiative called Vacant New York, which allows residents to upload information about their neighborhoods without relying on the City to collect it.
- BP Brewer also explained how when banks finance new real estate developments they typically make their financing conditional on the new commercial tenant being a chain or large business, and this can leave few spaces available for small ones. She walked the group through efforts she undertook while representing the Upper West Side on the City Council to require some space be set aside for small businesses.