By Sabina Mollot
State Senator Brad Hoylman, whose district includes Stuyvesant Town, Gramercy, Chelsea and Greenwich Village, recently conducted a study that found a high percentage of vacant storefronts in the district, with some retail corridors about 10 percent vacant and on Bleecker Street, a vacancy rate of 18.4 percent.
This is no breaking news to area residents of course; but the senator’s study “Bleaker on Bleecker,” which focuses on what’s been dubbed “high rent blight,” has led to his offering a few proposals to combat the problem.
In particular, the phenomenon of landlords of choosing to keep a space vacant “suggests waiting for Marc Jacobs instead of renting to Jane Jacobs,” the study quotes economist Tim Wu as saying.
The study also mentions the closure last year of the Chelsea Associated Supermarket, which had seen its $32,000 rent jump by $100,000. The now-shuttered store had the same owners as the Associated in Stuyvesant Town, the future of which is still murky.
Some stats from the study include: a 9.8 percent overall vacancy rate along First Avenue from 10th to 23rd Streets, Second Avenue from 3rd to 14th Streets, Eighth Avenue from 15th to 22nd Streets, and Bleecker Street from 6th to 8th Avenues, as well as an 18.4 percent vacancy rate along Bleecker Street from 6th to 8th Avenues.
To deal with the problem of vacant spaces as well as mom-and-pops replacing chains, Hoylman is planning legislation that includes the following proposals:
One is to eliminate the Commercial Rent Tax for small businesses, as Council Member Dan Garodnick has proposed for businesses in Manhattan that pay under $500,000 a year in rent.
“It’s piggybacking on Dan Garodnick’s proposal at the state level,” said Hoylman.
The senator also calls for removing any incentive for keeping a space vacant by making landlords whose storefronts are vacant for over a year ineligible for any loss deductions they might be entitled to for depreciation of property and operating vacancies.
While Hoylman said there is no evidence showing that landlords are intentionally trying to game the system, he believes the proposal will help end the practice of an owner holding out for the perfect, high-rent paying tenant. Or, more specifically, “a bank or a pharmacy.”
He’s also calling for limits on “formula retail” or chains via the creation of zoning restrictions. Hoylman said the legislation he’s working on would leave it up to individual municipalities to decide on specific thresholds.
He’s also calling for the creation of a state registry for businesses in the city that have been in operation for 30 years or longer. This would help recognize important businesses for potential tax credits or other benefits.
“Small businesses are historic treasures and we need to protect them, whether it’s the diner down the block or the bookstore that’s been there 50 years,” said Hoylman.
As for what the average vacancy rate is in Manhattan, the senator said that information isn’t readily available, which is why his study included a survey of the district. This is also what inspired a recent Manhattan-wide storefront study that was just conducted by Borough President Gale Brewer.
“The market,” added Hoylman, “has no morals. It’s up to government to set standards to protect independent businesses and entities that the community cherishes.”