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Remembering Charles Luce.

New York City is home to the largest and most comprehensive network of Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) in the country.

Today, 59 BIDs provide $80 million in supplemental services to over 65,000 businesses in commercial corridors across all five boroughs.

These BIDS have been pivotal partners in revitalizing New York City neighborhoods, and their impact is clear: the City's streets are cleaner and safer, and more people are visiting New York City than ever before.

This important model for neighborhood revitalization had to begin somewhere.

In January, a dear friend, Charles F. Luce, passed away. Chuck, a former under secretary of the Interior and Chairman of the Board of Consolidated Edison, may best be known for his work as head of the giant utility company, but in the economic development community he is also revered as one of the first champions of public-private partnerships for the sake of neighborhood development--and one of the founders of the City's first BID in the 14th Street/Union Square neighborhood.

In New York City, BIDs now come in all shapes and sizes, from the blocklong Diamond District BID that serves over 2,000 businesses in the diamond and jewelry industries to the Downtown Alliance, the City's largest BID, which helped bring supplemental maintenance services to Lower Manhattan after September 11.

No matter the size, BIDs throughout New York City are providing muchneeded services to commercial corridors and neighborhoods.

They are also engaged in innovative programming in marketing, streetscape design, and business development that helps to increase property values, improve the sales of local businesses, and decrease commercial vacancies.

The revitalization of the Union Square neighborhood is a story in which Charles Luce, and the Union Square BID, played a crucial role. Union Square opened in 1839 as a public park, and it quickly at tracted upper-class residents with luxury shopping and theater.

Later, in the 1930s, the park was reconstructed and raised to accommodate the Subway. This redesign would later prove to be the harbinger of illegal activity in the park, as the park's elevation above street level hid its interior from pedestrians.

Also during this time, the business center of the City shifted to midtown, leaving Union Square in something of a no-mans-land, caught between midtown and downtown.

For the following two decades the neighborhood experienced major economic decline, with businesses and residents relocating elsewhere. By the late 1970s, Union Square Park and surrounding areas had hit a crisis point; businesses had shut their doors, drug dealers controlled the park, and crime was prevalent. But out of this crisis came an extraordinary commitment to reclaiming the neighborhood and reversing decades of blight.


Mr. Charles Luce, then Chairman of the Board of Consolidated Edison, a company whose headquarters had been located in the Union Square neighborhood since 1909, was the backbone of this effort.

In 1976, a coalition of business, government, and community groups formed the 14th St- Union Square Local Development Corporation (LDC) to address the economic decline of the neighborhood and plan for the coordination of much-needed neighborhood services. Despite a compelling real estate offer to move Con Ed's headquarters to midtown, Luce honored his commitment to the neighborhood and elected to stay put, knowing that the utility company was a crucial anchor in the neighborhood. Luce emerged as a leader of the LDC, convincing other corporations, by example, to stay in the neighborhood and affirm their commitment to its vitality. These neighborhood leaders went on to create the City's first BID in 1984, the Union Square BID, and for the past two decades, the BID and the LDC, together known as the Union Square Partnership, have worked tirelessly to transform a languishing retail corridor and public park into a destination point in New York City.

Because of Charles Luce's leadership and foresight, Con Ed became one of the first corporate partners of government and community-based organizations to explicitly participate in the coordination of neighborhood services, spawning what is now a three-decade history of businesses coming together and creating BIDs for the benefit of their commercial corridors.

Luce provided the philosophical foundation for neighborhood-based public-private partnerships, and he should be credited for starting a movement that has revitalized countless American cities.

In the upcoming year, New York City plans to help create at least 5 more BIDs, from the Belmont section of the Bronx to Park Slope, Brooklyn.

As we continue to do this work, let us remember where it all started: with Charles Luce, a great civic leader and friend to New York City's neighborhoods.

* Rob Walsh led the Union Square Partnership from 1989-1997.

Robert W. Walsh

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Author:Walsh, Robert W.
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Feb 20, 2008
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