By Sabina Mollot
Jennifer Brown, the executive director of the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership Business Improvement District (BID), will soon be leaving her post after more than a dozen years of service. In an announcement last week, Brown said she will begin work next month as executive director of the Montclair Center BID, working in the area where she and her family have lived since she’s been commuting to Flatiron. The BID has not yet begun searching for her replacement.
This week, Brown spoke with Town & Village about the ways the Flatiron neighborhood has changed since its BID was formed in 2006, from rising commercial rents to the influx of many families.
“We would just focus on changing with the changing neighborhood,” she said. “Just enhancing services, cleanliness and safety and keeping an eye on everything going on.”
During Brown’s tenure, neighborhood public safety and clean team programs were launched, servicing Flatiron seven days a week. The Flatiron pedestrian plazas were also created in 2008, which the BID maintained. The holiday season “23 Days of Flatiron Cheer” programming was also launched along with free summer fitness and tech classes, ongoing speaker events and business assistance forums as well as other events. The neighborhood has also been promoted through marketing campaigns.
Commercially, Brown noted that the neighborhood has changed through new development, including hotels, as well as an increase in tech related businesses and co-working spaces. There has also been a steady increase in restaurants, which Brown said seems to be in response to all the residential activity. “There are just more people here 24/7, so you have to be able to meet the demand,” she said. “It used to be just Eisenberg’s, and now there’s an influx.”
In recent years, retail prices have also climbed, even, noted Brown, on the upper floors of buildings. However, when businesses close locally, Brown said it hasn’t been overwhelmingly a case of businesses being priced out, but owners wanting to do something different with their spaces.
Meanwhile, throughout all the changes, one constant has been the BID’s efforts aimed at the beautification of the area, like medians lined with blooming planters and cleaner streets. And these programs have been the most popular among the BID’s members.
“These are the things that touch people’s lives every day; they see the physical results,” said Brown. “The basics are always very important.”
The BID has also held outdoor summer activity series like fitness and tech classes as well as holiday games and performances out on the plazas. Other events, held indoors at local venues, are aimed at helping small business owners and for networking, and those too have amassed loyal followings.
One thing Brown said she considers unfinished business is a project to make the pedestrian plazas in Flatiron permanent. The plazas, when created, were intended to be temporary, and since then the materials in the streets have worn down and are in need of replacement.
Brown said the design of the new plazas, which may also include planter beds instead of standalone planters, should be completed in 2019.
“I would have loved to see a completed design process,” she sighed, but otherwise called her time as the BID’s only executive director as “a wonderful experience.”