A business battle is brewing in Bayside.
Store owners on Bell Boulevard attended a meeting on April 18 organized by Gregg Sullivan – the former director of the Bayside Village Business Improvement District (BID) – to address concerns about the current state of the organization. During the meeting, the BID members in attendance voted to reappoint Sullivan, who was fired on December 19.
The merchants’ complaints included a lack of information and response from the BID’s board since Sullivan’s firing, a blurring of the line between the BID and Bayside Business Association and ambiguity regarding the allocation of funds, including a reported 30 percent increase in the organization’s original $80,000 budget. No board members attended the meeting, although Sullivan claims to have invited them all.
“Bayside got lost, and it’s been unattended to and neglected,” Sullivan said. “We need to change that now. We need to reclaim Bayside and put it in the right direction.”
Claims were also made that some owners were unaware a BID existed or that they could apply for the right to vote. According to Sullivan, there are roughly 150 businesses in the BID – which is on Bell Boulevard from 35th Avenue to Northern Boulevard – and only 29 are signed up to vote.
“We need to unify and get everyone together as merchants and real estate owners and bring this back to life. We need to have organization, structure and passion and set a one-year plan in place,” said William Degel, a BID member who organized the meeting along with Sullivan. “Nobody has done anything [since Sullivan was fired.] There is no information and no communication. It’s like everything died.”
Degel, who owns Uncle Jack’s Steakhouse on Bell Boulevard, said he expects Sullivan to be reinstated and hopes to hold a meeting with the current board to gauge their interest in making improvements and increasing transparency. In the event the board is unwilling to negotiate, replacing the members entirely was discussed during the meeting.
The motion to reinstate Sullivan was introduced by Margaret Papacostas – BID member and owner of Azure clothing store – and subsequently seconded and approved by the 16 BID voters in attendance. No one opposed the motion.
Sullivan believes he was fired after the board discovered he sent a letter to the commissioner of the Department of Small Business Services (SBS) complaining about the status of the BID. Although he claims he enjoyed working for members of the board, including BID President James Riso, Sullivan feels there may be a need for the infusion of new energy.
Riso says he was never invited to the meeting, and while Sullivan was well liked by business owners and energetic to the public, he was insubordinate behind the scenes. He also feels that the attacks on the BID have taken away from the organization’s ability to focus fully on improving business in the area.
Riso, who will step down in June due to fatigue, claims the BID’s budget was still $81,368 up until December 31, 2011, and that the board did everything expected of them at that time. With the recent increase in budget, the board hopes to accomplish more, according to Riso.
“We are not hiding behind a curtain doing secret things trying to get over on people,” said Riso. “I own a business on Bell Boulevard. I pay more taxes that anyone. We welcome people to help. Instead of having these secret meetings, help out. The people making these accusations are inhibiting us from progressing.”
Despite Sullivan’s claim that he has been reinstated to his former position, the BID recently hired an executive director. Lyle Sclair, a former economic development associate with the Brooklyn Economic Development Council, was named the new executive director of the BID on April 23. “My number one objective is to meet everyone and learn the challenges they are facing. I’m not out there to recreate the wheel, but really just to help them grow their businesses,” Sclair said. “Bell Boulevard has a great mix of restaurants, nightlife and shopping. It offers everything, so if you are looking for something you will find it on Bell Boulevard.”