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The secretive Alliance for Downtown announced that the new Chairman is Dennis Friedrich, the CEO for the Canadian real estate conglomerate Brookfield Property Partners. He is replacing longtime Chairman Robert Douglas.
Brookfield is the leaseholder for the WFC buildings, now called Brookfield Place. Brookfield managed to sway the BPCA to award it control of the North Cove Marina, evicting the original operator, Mike Fortenbaugh. It also has a stake in the Howard Hughes corporations plans to build high-rises and shipping centers at the historic Seaport.
The secretive Alliance for Downtown does not hold public meetings or press conferences. It is a business improvement district (BID) and 501(c) non-profit that collects taxes from local businesses and then ostensibly provides community services. The board of directors is a who’s who of New York City politics and business, with members such as Mayor de Blasio, Comptroller Stringer, Manhattan Borough President Brewer, City Council Member Chin, BPCA President Hyman, and dozens of other real estate and Wall Street executives.
The Alliance states that it provides services to the Seaport and Financial District such as supplementary sanitation and security, “comprehensive research about Lower Manhattan”, marketing and communication, and streetscape design. However, the low quality of those services has been a source for complaints. For example, the Downtown Connection bus service is operated by a company that hires inappropriate drivers who were passing up bus stops when people were waiting to get on. The company was finally replaced by Golden Touch. The “security” personnel hire by the Alliance are not former police officers or soldiers, but rather untrained men who seem to be more like nightclub bouncers for Stones Street.
As a 501(c), the Alliance is supposed to be a non-profit. But as is so often the case in New York City, the executives are making a killing off of the taxpayer. The latest Form 990 is not posted online, but the 2013 form revealed that former Alliance President Elizabeth Berger snatched an astonished $461,093 in total compensation. She was replaced by Jessica Lappin, a former City Councilmember. Her salary has not been made public yet.
For 2013, the total revenue collected by the Alliance was $18,945,738. The total expense was $18,438,833. Of that, 31%, or $5,678,635, was paid out in the form executive and other salaries.
Why do the businesses Downtown pay the BID-tax so willingly? What are they getting for their money? Those questions are hard to answer given the lack of objective measures for the Alliance.
What is known are that two groups benefit from the Alliance’s tax revenue: The working class who provide the sanitation and security services, which numbers fewer than 150 employees, and the fat-cats in the executive offices making more than $400,000 a year for doing very little. Both ends of the political spectrum are satisfied, the loot is evenly distributed, and the taxpayer waste goes unabated.