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Shaping a new Times Square.

The decision by Bertelsmann AG to purchase and occupy almost half of 1540 Broadway, at 45th Street, was good news for New York City and for Gretchen Dykstra, president of the Times Square Business Improvement District.

Since Jan. 1, the BID, with the help of its $4.5 million annual budget supplied by area property owners, has been working to effect positive change in the world-famous district.

"Times Square is New York in the minds of many people," said Dykstra.

Programs already in place include: operating a 41-person supplemental sanitation crew, supervised by a private cleaning service, conducting a merchant outreach program; coordinating with local social service providers; and promoting Times Square through its marketing efforts. And last week (March 30) its 41 supplemental public safety officers hit the streets.

"We spend those funds to make Times Square cleaner and safer and to tell the public it's a good place to come," said Dykstra who spoke to REW from her corner office that faces Broadway at 46th Street and gives a view uptown. Dykstra said she chose this office to remind herself and others that the BID stretches up to 53rd Street beyond the "bow tie" -- the islands that join Seventh Avenue and Broadway.

The BID's northern and southern boundaries are West 53rd Street and West 41st Street, extending the West 40th Street in the block between Eighth Avenue and Seventh Avenue. On the East, it is bounded by the first tax lot west of Avenue of the Americas and on the west by the first tax lot west of Eighth Avenue, extending to Ninth Avenue on Restaurant Row along 46th Street.

Times Square, according to Dykstra, is an eclectic district that consists of 5,000 businesses, 1,500 shopkeepers, more than 200 restaurants, 12,500 hotel rooms, 201 legitimate movie screens and 40 live theaters.

The BID's 47-member board is headed by New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., and counts among its members property owners and real estate executives, merchants, tenants, restauranteurs, theater owners, hotel managers and owners, clergy, not-for-profit agency representatives, elected officials and city agency heads, and even a resident of the Times Square Hotel. The BID, Dykstra said, is a democratic organization.

"I think our definition of community tries to embrace the diverse community," she said" . . . It's not just the corporate world, it's not just the theater community. It is everything that is New York."

One of 24 such districts in the city, the BID is funded by 800 local property owners that pay a percentage of their assessed valuation -- .2 percent on office buildings and .1 percent for mixed-use. (Some tenants pay via pass-throughs.) Contributions, Dykstra said, range from $1 year to $1,000 a day. The city collects the assessment bi-annually and returns the money to the BID in full. Support for the BID appears to be strong, Dykstra said, as the city reports $1.6 million of the $2.2 million slated for the first semi-annual collection has been received.

BID in Action

The BID is providing added sanitation service -- sweeping sidewalks, and curbs -- 16 hours a day, seven days a week. The 50 uniformed employees are trained and supervised by ISS Servisystems, Inc., a private cleaning service. Thirty-five of the 50 workers come from the Manhattan Bowery Corp.

The uniformed and unarmed public safety officers, Dykstra said, provide "extra eyes and ears." Trained at John Jay College, the officers are recruited, supervised and deployed by the BID's director of Public Safety, Thomas Walsh, former commanding officer of Manhattan South. The officers will operate 18 to 24 hours a day -- depending on need and season -- and will be connected to the New York Police Department, homeless outreach teams and the BID's sanitation crew via a portable radio network. A white jeep, bearing the BID's logo, will also patrol the district, equipped with emergency lights, jumper cables and cones.

"In both cases, it's a matter of changing perception," she said.

The BID's merchant outreach efforts include surveying the merchants on how well the BID is doing and reporting back to them with the results. They also, she said, maintain good communication with residential and commercial property owners and with the hotel owners.

Their collaboration with social service providers is intended to help strengthen their efforts in the district and to work together to enhance the district. Janelle Ferris, the BID's director of Community Services, is formerly with the Manhattan Borough President's office and has a background in economic development. It is the BID's intention, Dykstra said, to eventually integrate their merchant outreach with their work with the social service providers.

"Our job is to listen to them -- how we might help them -- not to replicate or duplicate," she said.

For the BID's marketing campaign, Dykstra will be combining her communications background with Peter Kohlmann, director of Special Events and Promotions. Last summer, Kohlmann organized "Operation Welcome Home" for the city in four-and-a-half months. The marketing work encompasses special events, literature, giving tours. In June, Dykstra said, the BID will introduce tourist booths with a "snappy design". She would not reveal what they will look like but, she said, they will be fitting of Times Square. In the first example of their marketing flair, Dykstra rode into Times Square Jan. 1 atop the lead car of a sanitation caravan that arrived to clean up after the New Year's Eve ball dropping celebration.

"Peter Kohlmann and I have a broad definition of marketing," she said.

Dykstra stresses that creating a new Times Square cannot be done alone. The BID's services are supplemental, she said, and work in conjunction with city services. They stay in close touch with city agencies as well as private agencies.

"This is truly a public/private partnership," she said. "This is not a private group doing what the city is not doing.

"No BID can do what it does without the support and cooperation of the line agencies."

Dykstra joined the BID from a background in education, writing, editing, communications and government relations. A native of Staten Island, she holds a BA in History from the University of Wisconsin and a Masters in Education from Bank Street College of Education in New York City. She was one of the first 100 Americans hired by the People's Republic of China to teach at a university in China. She served as director of Communications for the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation and was appointed director of Communications/Community Relations for the New York City Charter Revision Commission. She most recently worked at The Rockefeller Foundation, involved with independent film distribution.

"Ultimately, I think the board sees this as a marketing job," Dykstra said.

In addition to caring deeply about New York and Times Square, Dykstra said, "This is a great job!

"It's quasi-governmental, quasi-business, quasi-nonprofit," she said. "It's a little bit of all of that and that makes for a pretty interesting day."

On this particular Monday that she met with REW, Dykstra began her day by

meeting with Chairman Sulzberger and the president of Bertelsmann to welcome the new owner/tenant to the area. With the three major television networks watching, she saw off the 41 public safety officers on their first day on the beat. After that she met at the Ramada Renaissance Hotel with the marketing directors of many of the hotels and businesses in the area to discuss projects they might do collectively. She met with the BID staff and Sulzberger. She spoke on the phone with various board members and wrote thank you notes to, among others, Mayor Dinkins for having attended the graduation of the public safety officers.

"The correspondence is interesting; the phone calls are fun; and the diversity of tasks is just wonderful," she said.

While this is a community-based job, Dykstra said, its impact is city-wide. She also coordinates with other BIDS in the city.

"BIDs are very important to the communities they merge, but they are also extremely important to the city as a whole," she said.

Things to Come

In addition to the tourism booths, plans for the future include installing 45-foot lamps that will help light the sidewalks especially on the side streets. For this, they are applying for a $1.5 million grant from the Portman Funds intended for improvements to the Times Square Area.

"There's no denying light makes people feel safer and more comfortable," she said, "not to mention what it would do to define the district." Architect Alex Cooper is working as a consultant with the BID to redesign the armed forces recruitment center in Times Square. They will submit the design to the Pentagon, which will hopefully implement it.

While they are not a "bricks and mortar" organization, Dykstra said, they can still help Times Square remain the "Crossroads of the World" and one of the city's busiest areas.

"We have nothing to do with the building end, but we can use our connections and staff power to bring about some change."
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Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Profile: Gretchen Dykstra
Author:Fitzgerald, Therese
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Apr 8, 1992
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