Friday, November 04, 2005

ED and Ground Zero

In today's NY Sun, Dave Lombino is reporting about the plight of the small businesses that are facing eviction by the MTA in the agency's efforts to build a grandiose transit hub. The group, going by the name Ground Zero Small Business Association, is led by Arthur Castle and is seeking to gain access to affordable space in the vicinity of their current location.

The problem that these 140 businesses and 700 workers face is that under current eminent domain law tenants have no recourse when property is seized. Given the limited space for small businesses downtown, however, it is unlikely that affordable space can be obtained without the help of government.

The key issue here is that after 9/11 many of these businesses decided to stay – some even were given loans that encouraged them to remain – and demonstrated an overall commitment to the area. As Katherine Hill, a graphic designer says, "We were asked to stay. Now that we are back on our feet, we are being asked to leave."

A number of the other merchants expressed the fears that all retailers have when faced with the need to relocate: a concern over the loss of customers who are familiar with their current store location. Others, no longer young, fear that they won't be able to handle the shock of relocation.

These fears are compounded by the lack of assistance these white collar, service and retail businesses have been offered. During a phone conversation we had with Mr. Castle yesterday, he told us that his stores have not been offered a dime in subsidies – the MTA project is to receive in excess of $800 in federal funds – except for relocation dollars that will barely cover moving expenses. He said it’s understood that the project is going forward but why does that mean that hundreds of businesses have to be threatened in the name of revitalization.

All of which strengthens the need to re-evaluate the current eminent domain laws and to look for ways to better handle the issue of tenancy. Similar problems will be seen at Willets Point where a number of longstanding firms do not own their property. This is an issue that is likely to roil the second Bloomberg term.