Brewer: Retail blight ‘worse than I thought’

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer (pictured at a recent press conference on the Commercial Rent Tax reform bill) conducted a foot patrol study of vacant storefronts along Broadway. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Two Sundays ago, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, with the help of nearly three dozen volunteers, walked along the length of Broadway in Manhattan, taking note of every vacant storefront they passed. The exercise was for a study on retail blight conducted by Brewer’s office, the results of which were not pretty.

In fact, said Brewer, who strolled a strip from the 60s to the 70s, “It was worse than I thought.”

Along her way, she observed five empty storefronts in a two block radius. “I don’t know how long they’ve been empty,” she said.

She chose Broadway as the street to monitor due to it being a part of so many different neighborhoods. Additionally, from what she’s seen the problem doesn’t appear to be more prolific in some neighborhoods than others.

“In Manhattan, it’s everywhere,” she said.

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Hoylman takes aim at ‘high rent blight’

Various empty storefronts in State Senator Brad Hoylman’s District, the subject of his recent study, “Bleaker on Bleecker” (Photo collage courtesy of Brad Hoylman)

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.

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Pols pushing mayor to sign Commercial Rent Tax reform bill

Council Member Dan Garodnick, standing next to the bill’s co-sponsor Council Member Helen Rosenthal (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

On Monday, Manhattan politicians and small business advocates gathered on the steps of City Hall to push the Commercial Rent Tax reform bill sponsored by Council Members Dan Garodnick and Helen Rosenthal.

This was the third public announcement in recent months about the bill, which so far the mayor hasn’t committed to supporting.

Garodnick said at this point, the Council has had a hearing on the CRT bill and although there’s been no vote yet, 38 of his colleagues have signed on as co-sponsors. Asked why there hasn’t been a vote, Garodnick said Council members usually first want to know if the mayor “will support it rather than veto it.”

Rosenthal later said, “We are optimistic that he will embrace it.”

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Letters to the editor, May 11

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

How city can help small businesses

This letter was originally published on town-village.com as a comment to the story, “Garodnick: Commercial Rent Tax Bill would hardly cost the city anything,” T&V, May 4.

Instead of doing this tax reduction by increasing the amount paid on the leasehold, it should be based on each proprietor’s, LLC member’s, partner’s, or S Corp shareholder’s distributive share of rent expense. Why should the sole proprietor paying $300,000 in rent be exempt from the CRT when the competing store down the block with two partners which pays $600,000 (i.e., $300,000 each from each partner) be exempt?

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Garodnick: Commercial Rent Tax bill would hardly cost city anything

Council Member Dan Garodnick, pictured with Borough President Gale Brewer and local business owners outside Whisk in Flatiron (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

A day after Mayor de Blasio released his executive budget, a handful of local elected officials took the opportunity to push for legislation that would eliminate the Commercial Rent Tax for about 3,400 small business owners in Manhattan.

The bill, which is sponsored by Council Members Dan Garodnick and Helen Rosenthal, was first announced in 2015, and at this point has 35 co-sponsors in the Council.

If passed it would raise the threshold of rent retailers who must pay the tax from those paying $250,000 a year to $500,000 year. The tax, which was first implemented in 1963, only applies to Manhattan businesses between Chambers Street and 96th Street. Garodnick has said raising the rent threshold would help 40 percent of the businesses owners now paying the tax while only costing the city six percent of the revenue the tax brings in, about $4.5 million.

Natasha Amott, the owner of Whisk, a kitchen related goods shop in Flatiron, where the announcement on the bill was made last Thursday, said her CRT costs her $15,000 a year. This is on top of the $315,000 she pays in rent each year and another standard corporate tax.

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Rent freeze stays

Tenants protest the lawsuit last September. (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

On Tuesday, a judge ruled against a landlord group that had sued to undo the rent freeze for over a million stabilized tenants in New York City.

The fight might not be over though since the Rent Stabilization Association, which represents over 25,000 property owners in the city, later tweeted that it would review Judge Debra James’ decision and “seek grounds for appeal.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio, meanwhile, cheered the news, and while discussing it on Tuesday, also brought up the mansion tax, saying this would create affordable housing for 25,000 more New Yorkers.

“Everyone who has struggled to pay the rent ― here’s the good news ― the people won and the landlords lost,” de Blasio said.

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Bills aim to exempt some businesses from paying Commercial Rent tax

Garodnick with other local elected officials and small business owners at City Hall on Monday. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

Garodnick with other local elected officials and small business owners at City Hall on Monday to discuss a package of bills. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Local elected officials gathered at City Hall on Monday to announce legislation that would exempt almost 4,000 local businesses in Manhattan from paying Commercial Rent Tax (CRT), which currently subjects owners below 96th Street to an additional tax if their yearly rent is $250,000 or higher. Councilmembers Dan Garodnick, Helen Rosenthal, Corey Johnson and Margaret Chin, along with Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, introduced the three bills aimed at providing relief for small business owners.

One of the bills, introduced by Garodnick and Rosenthal, would increase the rent threshold so commercial tenants paying under $500,000 would not have to pay the tax. Johnson and Brewer also introduced legislation aimed at helping affordable supermarkets and would exempt those businesses from the CRT, regardless of the amount of rent they pay.

The CRT was introduced in 1963 to help increase revenue in the city but was phased out in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and even the northern part of Manhattan in the 1990s, and the current rent threshold has not been updated since 2001. Brewer noted that the tax previously made sense because it was primarily applied to larger businesses but since rents have continued to increase, small and medium-sized businesses are affected now as well.

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