Seven years ago - Oct. 17, 1990 - Roy Smitheimer, then president of the Port Washington Chamber of Commerce, came to a General Council meeting to discuss the need for a Business Improvement District for Port Washington.
In a 12-page document handed out at the meeting, Roy explained that the Business Improvement District or BID was a financing mechanism permitting merchants and property owners to join together and, subject to the Town of North Hempstead's approval, use the town's power to collect the revenues the taxpayers have agreed to pay for local capital improvements and supplemental services beyond those already provided by the town. These may include additional security protection, sanitation, maintenance, promotional events, holiday street lighting and beautification projects.
Roy maintained that creation of a BID would spur business improvements and neighborhood stability in our downtown business area and help local businesses compete with shopping malls. He asked our support of the chamber's application to the town. He pointed out that Port homeowner support for the BID application would be very helpful in gaining town approval. Four months later the 15 civic association members of the General Council unanimously endorsed the application for a BID and so advised the town in a letter to then Town Supervisor Ben Zwirn. Two General Council representatives were appointed to the BID steering committee. The BID began operations early last year and Roy was appointed its executive director. It operates out of the chamber headquarters near the Town Dock.
We as homeowners have a substantial stake in the health and vitality of our local business community. Vacant storefronts and littered sidewalks are our problems as well as theirs. So is lack of parking. With the resurgent economy vacancies are down but rents running as high as $25 to $30 per square foot dampen demand for available space. Two other concerns very familiar to us as homeowners: high property taxes and the regulatory arms of 13 different governmental jurisdictions - a potential bureaucratic octopus - overseeing our community's five square miles.
Port Washington has unmatched assets: An historic waterfront abutting Manhasset Bay, tourist attracting restaurants and antique stores, a 28 minute direct commute to the city, a small town feel, and an engaged and Can Do citizenry. Just think of Landmark, Pride in Port, Harborfest.
I strongly believe that a continuing dialogue and partnership between Port businesses and homeowners are essential if we want to revitalize our commercial area, stabilize our tax base and make Port a pleasant place to live and shop. For this reason, I have invited our local business leaders to join us tonight and share with us their thoughts on how homeowners and local businesses can best collaborate to make this an even better community.