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Woodhaven BID improving neighborhood for residents

Ten years after officials incorporated Queens' first business improvement district in downtown Woodhaven, the streets are cleaner, the storefronts are nearly free of graffiti and new businesses are flourishing along Jamaica Avenue.

The business improvement district, or BID, covers 25 blocks in Woodhaven and operates on an annual budget of $160,000, according to one of its administrators, Maria Thomson. She said the funds raised by levying assessments on businesses in the district are unique because they are directly infused into Woodhaven rather than being funneled into a citywide pool.

"Every penny that is collected comes right back," said Thomson, executive director of the Greater Woodhaven Development Corporation that supervises the BID's implementation. "We have kept the same budget for 10 years. That tells you something about how we manage our money."

The Woodhaven development corporation will celebrate its 24-year anniversary Friday with a dinner dance at Le Cordon Bleu on Jamaica Avenue.

Thomson said Woodhaven residents worked for more than seven years to get the city's approval for the BID. She said the BID was the first of its kind in Queens.

"We used to have dirty streets and it was impossible to keep them up because they were so busy," Thomson said. "And the year before the BID, we did not even have Christmas lights."

Now, she said, because of the BID, there are funds available to clean up trash on the streets and ensure local residents will see a bit of holiday cheer during the winter months.

Joyce Coward, director of Queens neighborhood development for the city Department of Small Business Services, said the Woodhaven BID is one of the largest in the city despite its budget. She said the BID has been a success because it has brought new shoppers to Woodhaven and encouraged business owners to fill store vacancies along Jamaica Avenue.

"The street is absolutely clean, the promotions that they run are so well done and attract thousands of people to the area who then come back and shop," she said. Coward, who has worked with the BID team for 10 years, also said the quality of businesses in the BID rising.

The BID, which was started in 1993, spans 25 blocks, includes 329 stores and covers all properties on Jamaica Avenue from Dexter Court on the west side to 100th Street on the east side. The Greater Woodhaven Development Corporation controls the assessments charged to business owners within the BID boundaries, Thomson said.

According to the annual report printed by administrators of the BID, it generates additional funds in the following key areas: $55,000 for more sanitation services; $25,000 for marketing and promotion of the local neighborhood; $20,000 for more security; and $19,000 for holiday decorations.

Thomson said although businesses within the BID could benefit from increased assessments that would further enhance the neighborhood's appearance and environment, the Woodhaven development group would not recommend increasing the rates. She said the current fiscal crisis has played a large role in the decision to maintain current assessments.

Reach reporter Alex Davidson by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156

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