Despite the shutdown of its office and the layoff of most of its staff, economic development work at Heart of Brooklyn will continue, at least for another few months.
Last month, the organization's board closed the Washington Avenue office and laid off nearly all the staff of the 12-year-old nonprofit, citing "an unfortunate convergence of funding challenges" in a Feb. 15 statement.
The organization is an alliance between Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Brooklyn Children’s Museum, Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Public Library, Prospect Park Alliance and the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Prospect Park Zoo that works on education, research, economic development and marketing for all six institutions.
Included in the layoffs were Heart of Brooklyn's new director, Liz Harris, who just took the helm in November and Essie Lash, its communications director.
The organization's extremely popular day camp, Brooklyn Cultural Adventures Program (BCAP), which preceded the formation of Heart of Brooklyn will continue, as wlll its Building Strong Community Networks reseach program, which is funded through grants.
Revitalization Work Continues
But Heart of Brooklyn's commercial revitalization manager, Rebeca Ramirez, is continuing its work to with Washington Avenue Merchants through May, merchants say, to launch a Needs Assessment Survey to determine what businesses are most needed for the avenue.
The goal of the survey is to help increase the mix of offerings on the 10-block strio between Atlantic and Eastern Parkway. Although more than a dozen new businesses have opened on Washington Avenue in the past two years, the majority have been bars or restaurants.
The survey is a continuation of the commercial revitalization work Heart of Brooklyn has been doing since 2007, when it helped form the Washington Avenue-Prospect Heights Merchant Association. Since then, Heart of Brooklyn has supported the fledgling association by creating its website, signing up new members, hosting the monthly meetings, helping to organize street beautification projects and working to attract new businesses to the avenue. It also organized the annual Washington Ave. Rocks! Street Fair.
BID On The Way
This work was supported in part by a grant from New York City's Department of Small Business Services, which routinely supports new merchants associations until they can form a Business Improvement District.
If the majority of property owners on an avenue agree to form the BID, and the City Council gives approval, then all building landlords must pay a yearly fee, whether they voted for the BID or not. The fee would pay for such services as sidewalk sweeping, holiday lights and landscaping. It would cost each business several hundred dollars a year, depending on how much of the block a business takes up and how many services the BID decides to put in their budget.
Several months ago, Washington Avenue merchants began working to form the BID, under the leadership of real estate broker Joan Joseph. Last month, she confined that despite events at Heart of Brooklyn, the movement to create a BID is going strong.
Merchants Mourn Heart of Brooklyn Downsizing
But even if the BID does come to fruition, Washington Avenue merchants said losing most functions of Heart of Brooklyn is a great loss to the avenue.
"I think it's a huge blow to the merchants association and the avenue as a whole," said Bitter and Esters co-owner Douglas Amport in an e-mail. "The work that they did over at HOB was fundamentally important to the betterment of the avenue and I think that everyone will notice the huge gap they leave behind."
Coffee Bites owner Soraya Sultan-Meer agreed: "It was nice having a force pulling us all together and reminding us we weren't alone."