Fordham Road Advocate Pushes for BID
By HANNAN ADELY
Talk about working your way up the ladder. Starting her career at the Bronx Council for Economic Development (BCED) as an intern, Wilma Alonso is now executive director of the non-profit development group.
When she interned at BCED, Alonso, now 35, was earning her associates degree from Hostos College in Computers. She followed her internship with positions as clerk, bookkeeper, office manager, then controller. In 2000, she was appointed executive director, overseeing economic development on Fordham Road - the third largest shopping district in New York City.
During her time at BCED, she's seen the Caldor building transformed into a sparkling commercial center with offices and storefronts now home to the Children's Place, Verizon Wireless and North Fork Bank. She's also overseen the annual Renaissance Festival, a day of entertainment and celebration, which comes to Fordham again this year on Sept. 8.
She has been working on promoting the shopping district in citywide advertisements and hopes to secure more parking for Fordham shoppers. Some current projects of BCED include a graffiti-cleaning initiative, and a sanitation project where workers remove full garbage bags from public cans and replace the garbage liners. BCED also offers technical assistance for merchants, providing workshops, micro-loans, training and help in dealing with government agencies.
All the projects, Alonso explained, are precursors to BCED's larger goal- creating a Business Improvement District (BID) on Fordham Road.
In order to start a BID, a participation level of 40 percent of merchants and 65 percent of landlords is necessary. Participants agree to be assessed an additional tax, which is used for projects managed by the BID. Mainly, the BID would create focus on improving sanitation, security and marketing in the shopping district.
Alonso will have an easier time getting the BID off the ground than her predecessor, who faced an uncooperative Giuliani administration. "We had to face challenges from the city and the mayor," she said. "[Giuliani] wasn't very supportive of BIDs."
The Giuliani administration required a much higher participation level to start a BID than is currently required.
So far, Bloomberg has been more receptive to the districts. "The mayor has a different perspective on how to revitalize the economy," Alonso said.
With New York City recovering from a recession, BIDs are more important than ever, Alonso says. "Now is the time we need to pay more attention to the economy and how to create jobs, how to keep companies that are open open," she said.
So now, Alonso, who lives near 161st Street, is doing the footwork and paperwork necessary to revive the BID approval process that stalled under Giuliani, and trying to get merchants and landlords to sign on.
Alonso's pitch to merchants: They'll get a safer and more prosperous shopping area and be able to help out the community at the same time.
She looks forward to the Renaissance Festival, which will also commemorate the one- year anniversary of Sept. 11. "We want to celebrate 'we're united, we're here,'" Alonso said. "That was the past and this is a celebration of the future."
Her long-term goals for Fordham include attracting more big chain stores, keeping the ones already there, providing subsidized parking, and getting rid of graffiti. Her vision, she said, looks like 34th Street- a clean shopping center with flowers and benches. She would also like to see the small triangular park that sits between Fordham and Kingsbridge roads beautified and opened up to cafes and vendors.
"I would love to see this shine like any other shopping district in New York," Alonso said. "We have the potential. We just have to work day by day without giving up."
Ed. note: For more information on the Bronx Council for Economic Development, call 562- 2104
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