Neighborhood Challenge Encourages Business Improvement Districts and Local Development Corporations to Strengthen Neighborhoods Through Creative and Innovative Initiatives

SBS Commissioner Robert W. Walsh announced the six winners of the Neighborhood Challenge during an awards breakfast held at the Roosevelt House in Manhattan. Launched in September 2013, Neighborhood Challenge is a competitive grant initiative designed to encourage Business Improvement Districts (BIDs), Local Development Corporations (LDCs), Merchant Associations, and other local economic development organizations to find innovative ways to improve services, generate economic activity, and attract more jobs and investment to their local commercial corridors. Grants ranging up to $100,000 were awarded to organizations that presented the most creative and impactful economic development and revitalization projects.

“Under Mayor Bloomberg, BIDs throughout the five boroughs have helped strengthen and revitalize neighborhoods, and create jobs by supporting and attracting local businesses,” said Deputy Mayor Steel. “The winners of the Neighborhood Challenge have proposed innovative programs, and I look forward to seeing the difference they will make along their commercial corridors, and as a model citywide.”

“The City’s 68 BIDs along with Local Development Corporations are strengthening neighborhoods across the City, and the Neighborhood Challenge program encourages these organizations to keep up the momentum with innovative and creative projects,” said Rob Walsh, Commissioner of the NYC Department of Small Business Services. “We received many strong proposals, and I congratulate the winners of the Neighborhood Challenge. I look forward to seeing results from the winning organizations, and also encourage all organizations to implement your plans. Thank you to the Selection Committee for your expertise and help identifying the top projects.”

The winning organizations and their proposed projects include:

New Harlem East Merchants Association (NHEMA) 
East Harlem

To change the public perception of East 125th Street and attract new development, NHEMA will implement several district-improvement initiatives, including business attraction, lighting, and wayfinding installations to revitalize and brand the 125th Street transit hub as an “Uptown Grand Central.” NHEMA will also partner with ACE New York, a non-profit organization that helps create maintenance jobs for the homeless population, to maintain and beautify the 125th Street transit hub and retail corridor. 

Urban Upbound (formerly known as East River Development Alliance, Inc.)
Western Queens

There are currently 3,000 residents in NYCHA’s Astoria Houses. Urban Upbound will help local residents launch new businesses and employ local residents. To accomplish this, Urban Upbound will conduct a market analysis to identify viable businesses; develop a business retention/attraction/growth strategy; identify five potential viable business ideas; create business plans for two of those businesses; and identify local entrepreneurs and capital investors to help launch a new locally-grown business.

Women’s Housing and Economic Development Corporation (“WHEDco”) 
South Bronx

WHEDco will use a creative place making project to activate its southern corridor through urban design. By leveraging a previous collaboration with the School of Visual Arts’ “Impact! Design for Social Change,” and partnering with the Design Trust for Public Space, WHEDco will use the Neighborhood Challenge grant to fund the reactivation of open space under the elevated subway line and rebrand the area based on its history as a musical hub. This placemaking campaign aims to attract retail businesses, increase arts activity, and create a sense of community place and culture on Southern Boulevard.

Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation and Bedford Stuyvesant Gateway BID
Central Brooklyn

To drive traffic to one of the central nodes of the Bed-Stuy shopping district along Fulton Street and Nostrand Avenue, Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corp. and the Bedford- Stuyvesant Gateway BID will create business development and operation plans for the reactivation of the Restoration Plaza ice-skating rink. The new rink and accompanying seasonal programming will serve residents and visitors beginning in the winter of 2014/2015.

DUMBO Improvement District

To connect the neighborhood to adjacent communities, the DUMBO Improvement District will create “DUMBO Circuit” – a series of sculptural fitness stations and creative interventions that will become a free outdoor gym and fitness circuit. Designs selected through a competitive process will beautify and activate the neighborhood’s underutilized parks and public spaces below and around the BQE. DUMBO Circuit will promote local public health, inspire long-term investment in these parks, and advance the Brooklyn Tech Triangle initiative by improving the connection between DUMBO and Downtown Brooklyn.

Fulton Street BID (FAB Alliance) and Pratt Area Community Council (PACC)
Fort Greene and Clinton Hill

To close the “Cambridge/Classon Gap,” Fulton Area Business (FAB) Alliance will partner with Pratt Area Community Council (PACC) to develop financial and architectural plans to encourage responsible real estate development on key vacant lots, activate public spaces, and increase access to public transportation by reopening a long-closed subway entrance. FAB Alliance and PACC believe closing the gap will generate opportunities for jobs and affordable housing for community residents, improve services for local consumers, and generally enhance and enliven this major commercial corridor.

The winning proposals were selected by the Neighborhood Challenge Selection Committee, which consists of four economic development professionals from the public, private, and non-profit sectors. Winners were selected based on the project’s vision, implementation plan, neighborhood impact, sustainability and creativity. Members of the Selection Committee include:

Jonathan Fanton (Chair) - Dr. Fanton is currently the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Visiting Fellow at the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College in New York. Previously, he served as the President of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and as the President of the New School for Social Research.

Maria Torres-Springer - Ms. Torres-Springer is the Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of Friends of the Highline, the non-profit organization that oversees the maintenance, operations, and public programming for the High Line. Previously, she served as the Executive Vice President and Chief of Staff at the New York City Economic Development Corporation and at the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Economic Development & Rebuilding as a Senior Policy Advisor.

Tim Sullivan - Mr. Sullivan is currently the Chief of Staff for Robert K. Steel, Deputy Mayor for Economic Development, where his areas of policy focus include transportation and infrastructure finance, public-private partnerships, small business support, and waterfront redevelopment. Prior to joining the Mayor's Office in 2010, Mr. Sullivan served as Chief of Staff to the Global Head of Investment Banking at Barclays Capital Inc., and prior to that was a healthcare investment banker.
Sarah Krauss - Ms. Krauss currently serves as Chief of Staff to the Commissioner of the Department of Small Business Services. Previously, she was the Communications Director for the New York City Office of the Public Advocate. Prior to her time in city government, Ms. Krauss worked at Edelman and served as the Deputy Press Secretary for U.S. Senator Charles Schumer.

In 2012, the City launched BID Challenge and received 37 project proposals from BIDs across New York City. Seven selected BIDs were awarded grants up to $75,000 for innovative projects that included storefront improvements, plaza activation, district marketing campaigns, and public art installation in neighborhoods such as Downtown Brooklyn, Washington Heights, South Bronx, Jackson Heights, and more. Neighborhood Challenge expands on the BID Challenge program by offering larger grant amounts and including other local development organizations, as well as BIDs, among eligible organizations.

About the Department of Small Business Services
The Department of Small Business Services (SBS) makes it easier for businesses in New York City to start, operate and expand by providing direct assistance to business owners, fostering neighborhood development in commercial districts, and linking employers to a skilled and qualified workforce. For more information on all of SBS’ services, go to

Merideth Weber (SBS)