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Life on the grand boulevard.

Life on the grand boulevard

There's modest office in the Empire State Building that buzzes with the concerns of one of the toniest business and shopping corridors of the world.

The Fifth Avenue Association was founded in 1907 as the ears and voice of real estate firms, business people, and merchants on and around the avenue. Well, Fifth Avenue has come a long way and today the organization, representing the area of Fifth Avenue from Washington Square Park to 96th Street, east of 6th Avenue and west of Lexington Avenue, boasts 700 corporate members and a dazzling board of directors, headed by William Chaney, chairman of Tiffany.

Thomas Cusick, is the organization's full-time president and a veteran of New York City government. Sanitation, security, and unauthorized street vendors, are among the multitude of problems and issues he and the organization aggressively track. And as the city looks to cut its budget by reducing service, their work load grows.

"We grapple hand-to-hand combat on these issues," said Cusick who joined the staff in January of 1990.

Struggle with Veterans

In its-going effort to rid the avenue of street peddlers, the association is leading the campaign to reverse Kaswan vs. Aponte decided in April 1990. Veteran Joseph Kaswan successfully challenged New York City Law that restricts vendors in areas like Midtown and argued that New York State law gives disabled veterans the right to vend anywhere in the city without restriction.

One of the problems, Cusick said, is that disabled has become a loosely defined term. In addition, these veterans, many of them homeless, are often recruited -- in what he calls a "rent-a-vet-scheme -- by those who are restricted from selling in Midtown in order to bypass the city's restrictive code. In many cases, the vets are selling counterfeit and mislabeled merchandise.

The association is seeking the adoption of two bills that would override the Kaswan vs. Aponte decision. Senator Roy Goodman is the sponsor of Bill #1282 and Assemblyman Steve Sanders has introduced the other Bill #8516. The association is waging a letter writing campaign and Cusick, Chaney and board member Ralph Destino, chairman of Cartier, will travel to Albany this week.

Progress of the bills, however, has been hampered by budget negotiations and, before that, the gulf war, Cusick said.

"Trying to get legislators to advance a bill that takes privilege away from vets is not easy when you're at war," said Cusick.

The veteran issue is a very complicated one and an emotional one for both sides, said Cusick who is himself a veteran. While the veterans, he said, don't want to lose the employment opportunity, he believes employment is a short-sighted benefit. If the veteran with a license runs into some sort of trouble, like a violation, he said, the counterfeit merchant will not lend him any support and the veteran may lose its license.

The counterfeit T-shirts and other items, Cusick said, is a "complete clash" of what Fifth Avenue has been built up to be. Dismayed tourists, he said, go home and send letters asking why Fifth Avenue resembles a "flea market."

"They go home and they talk... That is certainly not healthy for this city."

Members of the association have been urged to begin employment programs for veterans establishing "legitimate jobs."

"While we are opposed to the activity in the street, we are not opposed to veterans," said Cusick.

Last year the association succeeded in strengthening anti-peddler laws to allow greater number of confiscations and to broaden merchandise removal language relating to restrictive areas.

Members Fight Newsstands

The association is also seeking to block, at whatever level they can, applications to establish newsstands on Fifth Avenue between 34th and 59th Streets.

Earlier this year, the association appealed successfully to the city's Landmarks Commission to disallow a newsstand in front of the landmark Cartier's jewelry store.

While the previous law prohibiting newsstands was challenged, Cusick said, there was a moratorium in effect during the Koch administration. The current administration, however, has voiced no objection to the newsstands and made no effort to notify property owners of the 21 applications -- including one for the front of Tiffany's -- pending before Consumer Affairs. The association, therefore, has contacted each of the property owners and tenants that would be affected.

"In every single case, the property owner was (a) unaware and (b) horrified," said Cusick.

The Fifth Avenue Association is attacking the newsstand issue on a number of levels. They are arguing with the Department of Sanitation that a newsstand should not be placed in front of any building that has an underground vault in front of it. They are negotiating with the newspaper publishers, and trying to increase opportunities outside Midtown and in the other boroughs. Legislatively, they are lobbying for grandfathering the present license holders to limit the number of newsstands, and they want to prohibit a newsstand in front of three or more stories of retail.

Cleaning up the Neighborhood

Aided by a $100,000 contribution from member Takashimaya department store, the association is running its own navy-blue trash collection van that will patrol Fifth Avenue -- from 46th to 59th Streets -- collecting sidewalk litter gathered and bagged by a privately-funded crew of formerly homeless people. Receptacles will be placed on every intersection between 46th and 59th Streets by June 30. The program is a forerunner of the area's business improvement district which is currently forming.

The program, which actually began as a pilot at the beginning of last year, was conceived as a response to the scaled-down sanitation service expected in Midtown.

"The city's wire-mesh baskets would be overflowing on almost every corner," said Cusick.

While almost every member supported the van idea, Cusick said, the real push came when Takashimaya made its hefty donation. Jiro Shinohara, executive vice president for U.S. operations, announced that the Japanese retailer wanted to "make a gift" to celebrate the company's ground breaking on Fifth between 45th and 55th Streets.

"He agreed to bring up to par our long-run goal on the program by giving us $100,000," said Cusick.

The van can hold up to 200 bags of trash and will collect litter from 40 privately funded receptacles, with 25 more coming and all city trash baskets.

The Department of Sanitation is assisting by waiving dumping fees and the Department of Consumer Affairs is assisting by waiving license fees and requirements for the van.

Takashimaya's contribution covers the cost of the van and salary of workers as well as van maintenance costs and the 25 new litter receptacles.

Forming a BID

The Fifth Avenue Association is the sponsoring agency of the Fifth Avenue Business Improvement District (BID) for the area from 46th Street to 59th Street and a strip of 57th Street. A District Management Association has been formed and Cartier's Destino was elected its president. Cusick said that when he started he didn't really have a BID in mind but when it became clear to what extent they'd be supplementing city services a BID became the way to go. Initial talks, Cusick said, are overwhelmingly positive. The BID assessment will be somewhere in the area of 10 cents per square foot. The garbage program will be covered by the BID when it is approved by city agencies.

"We've begun providing these services so we don't have to wait for the final process," said Cusick.

Another project planned for BID funds will be increased security effort that will tap into the Interwatch program, launched by Association for a Better New York. Building managers and employees will be trained by the police department to recognize and assess crime situations. For $1 a day, the staff people can tap directly into the police department with their walkie-talkies. This is quicker and more efficient since a professional not a lay person is making the call. The association will be taking on its fifth full-time employee, a retired New York City police lieutenant who is a "super organizer", to oversee the program.

The association's membership includes, according to Cusick, every large and small real estate company involved with Fifth Avenue. Notables on the board include: Lew Rudin, Dan Rose, Howard Milstein, Joseph Hilton, Ray O'Keefe, Bernard Mendik, Peter J. Catalano, Richard Seth Hayden, Stephen Meringoff, Howard Milstein, Ivana Trump, Dick Seeler.

In addition to addressing avenue-wide issues, the association also lends its assistance to individual member situations. When a water main exploded at 18th and 5th, according to Cusick, there was a "huge" dispute over who would repair the vault that was destroyed -- the building owner or the city. The association sat down and "got that moving", said Cusick.

"We look for whatever opportunity we can to improve conditions," said Cusick.

The organization also gets involved with issues that are not exclusive to their own interests. They assist the American Cancer Society with its Daffodil Day, and they encourage members to donate reusable and recyclable goods and office equipment to Materials for the Arts, a joint program of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and the Department of Sanitation. The items may be used by arts organizations as props or for administrative offices or as teaching materials.

"All (members) have the same general attitude of not all being concerned with their own business but being concerned with the greater community at large." "Sometimes it pays off quickly and sometimes it takes a long time."

The association convinced Department of Transportation Commissioner Lou Riccio to spend some of his "glassphault" paving expenditure on Fifth Avenue. The association determined that the area from 86th Street and down to the 40's was the most "uneven." The first portion 86th Street to 59th Street was completed first, and Fifth Avenue down to 42nd Street and 57th Street was completed last week.

Cusick said the glassphault is a good temporary solution since Fifth Avenue is scheduled to be reconstructed. Reconstruction was originally slated for 1992 but due to budgetary woes, the work is not scheduled for any time in the "near foreseeable future." The association appealed to the city to do the reconstruction at a time that was least disruptive to business and to do it in smaller strips.

Cusick said the reconstruction is sorely needed as there is real capacity problem. At the Stanhope Hotel, for instance, a heavy rain storm can cause rain to back up into the rooms.

"The sewers were created 100 years ago for context of what existed in that time frame."

The association, Cusick said, works in concert with other Midtown organizations such as: the Real Estate Board of New York, the Avenue of the Americas Association, League of Theaters, Rockefeller Center. And they are a member of Taxpayers for an Affordable New York.

PHOTO : Jiro Shinohara (L to R) executive vice president of New York Operations for Takashimaya; Ralph Destino, chairman of Cartier and Fifth Avenue Association Business Improvement District; William Chaney, chairman of Tiffany & Co. and Fifth Avenue Association; Hannah Nakhshab, director of Management Services of 650 Fifth Avenue; and Emory Jackson, president of We Care About New York toss the first of many trash bags into a new trash collection van, contributed by Takashimaya department store, launching a major effort by the Fifth Avenue Association to clean up New York's famous Fifth Avenue.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Hagedorn Publication
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Fifth Avenue Association
Author:Fitzgerald, Therese
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Jun 19, 1991
Previous Article:F.M. Ring modernizes 251 Park Avenue South.
Next Article:Affordable homes break ground in Brooklyn's Broadway Triangle.

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