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Daniel A. (Dan) Biederman is a prominent New York City downtown manager and pioneer in the field of privately funded urban and public space management. He is the co-founder of Grand Central Partnership, 34th Street Partnership, and Bryant Park Corporation, three Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) operating in midtown Manhattan. He currently serves as the president of the latter two of these organizations and advises downtown redevelopment efforts in several other cities.
Bryant Park Corporation
Bryant Park Corporation was co-founded in 1980 by Biederman and Andrew Heiskell, Chairman of Time, Inc. and the New York Public Library. Initially supported by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, BPC is now funded by assessments on property and businesses adjacent to the park, and by revenue generated from events held at the park. BPC is the largest U.S. effort to provide private management, with private funding, to a public park.
By the 1970s Bryant Park had become a dangerous haven for drug dealers and was widely seen as a symbol of New York City’s decline. Upon assuming management of the park, Biederman and Heiskell created a master plan for turning around the park’s fortunes. In the words of an Urban Land Institute case study, "Biederman began experimenting with a series of efforts to bring people back to the park, while also exploring how to generate revenue."
BPC immediately brought significant changes that made the park once again a place that citizens wanted to visit. Biederman, a proponent of the "Broken Windows Theory" expounded by James Q. Wilson and George Kelling in a seminal 1982 article in Atlantic Monthly, instituted a rigorous program to clean the park, remove graffiti and repair the broken physical plant. BPC also created a private security staff to confront unlawful behavior immediately.
In 1988 BPC closed the park in order to undertake a four-year project to build new park entrances for increased visibility from the street, to enhance the formal French garden design (with a lush redesign by Lynden Miller), and to improve and repair paths and lighting. BPC’s plan also included restoring of the park’s monuments, and renovating its long-closed restrooms, and building two restaurant pavilions and four concession kiosks.
Biederman worked with William H. Whyte, the American sociologist and distinguished observer of public space. Whyte’s influence led Biederman to implement two decisions essential to making the park the successful public space that it us. First, Biederman insisted on placing movable chairs in the park. Whyte had long believed that movable chairs give people a sense of empowerment, allowing them to sit wherever and in whatever orientation they desire. The second decision was to lower the park itself. Until 1988, Bryant Park had been elevated from the street and further isolated by tall hedges, a layout tailor-made to foster illegal activity. The 1988 renovation lowered the park to nearly street level and tore out the hedges.
After a four-year effort overseen by Biederman, the park reopened in 1992 to widespread acclaim. Called “a triumph for many” by NY Times architectural critic Paul Goldberger, the renovation was lauded not only for its architectural excellence, but also for adhering to Whyte’s vision. “He understood that the problem of Bryant Park was its perception as an enclosure cut off from the city; he knew that, paradoxically, people feel safer when not cut off from the city, and that they feel safer in the kind of public space they think they have some control over.” The renovation was lauded as "The Best Example of Urban Renewal" by New York Magazine, and made Time Magazine's list of "Best Design of 1992". Many awards followed, including a Design Merit Award from Landscape Architecture Magazine, which noted that the park was "colorful and comfortable....and safe". In 1996, the Urban Land Institute honored BPC with a ULI Award For Excellence. ULI remarked that the renovation "turned a disaster into an asset, dramatically improved the neighborhood, and pushed up office rents and occupancy rates."
In the 28 years since BPC assumed management, the park has become one of Manhattan’s most beautiful, best maintained and most visited public sites. Besides the restrooms, restaurant, and concession kiosks, BPC has added a custom-built carousel and has revived the tradition of an open-air library, The Reading Room, which also hosts literary events. The HBO/Bryant Park Summer Film Festival, begun in the early nineties, became an instant favorite for New Yorkers and is now a much-beloved tradition.
34th Street Partnership
34th Street Partnership was founded in 1989 when Mayor David Dinkins and property owners on 34th Street asked Biederman to bring his expertise to the area around Madison Square Garden in order to prepare it for the 1992 Democratic Convention. The 34SP BID manages the 34th Street District, a busy area in midtown Manhattan covering 35 key commercial blocks in midtown Manhattan and encompasses many landmarks including Pennsylvania Station, Madison Square Garden, Herald Square, Greeley Square, Macy’s and the Empire State Building. The 34th Street District is one of the city’s premiere shopping districts, is home to some of the busiest transportation hubs in the world and several major entertainment venues, and is the workplace for over 400,000 office workers.
In January 1992 the Partnership opened a $6 million annual program of security, sanitation, tourist information, public events and debt service on a major capital improvement bond of $25 million for improvements to the district's street, sidewalks, and plazas. As of 2008 crime is down 90%, the streets are free of litter, and 34SP has aided dozens of retailers in upgrading their store facades. 34SP also extensively restored Herald and Greeley Squares, making them havens for shoppers, visitors and workers.
The capital improvements have been widely regarded as a prime reason for the rise in 34th Street property values that began in the 1990s and continues to this day,with "rapid appreciation on nearly every street." Retailers and business owners also appreciate what 34SP has done for the neighborhood. “There is a good feeling about the neighborhood, where it has come from and where it’s going…and it’s a direct result of 34SP’s efforts to improve the neighborhood”, a real estate professional was quoted in Real Estate Weekly. Another real estate professional told Women's Wear Daily in 2007 that the area around Herald Square "could be the best outdoor mall in the country."
34SP owns and maintains over 3,000 pieces of street furniture, much of it designed and developed by its staff. Among the street furniture elements are award-winning designs for multiple newsboxes, tourist information kiosks and parking regulation signs. Other street elements include trashcans, light poles, illuminated street signs and treepits. 34SP’s horticulture program maintains plants and flowers in the parks at Herald and Greeley Squares and in planters and treepits throughout the district. The horticulture program is also responsible for maintaining 140 trees in the district, and for instituting an effort to beautify the district’s pubs with flower installations. As is the case with Bryant Park Corporation, 34SP’s efforts have resulted in a large jump in neighborhood property values, as shown in a 2002 Ernst & Young study.
Biederman had long been dismayed by the sight of poorly maintained individual newsboxes clogging the corners of city streets and made a priority of making available to publishers attractive, uniform multiple newsboxes. In this endeavor, Biederman and 34SP had as an enthusiastic ally Vanessa Gruen of the Metropolitan Art Society. Both organizations have actively lobbied NYC government to enact and enforce laws prohibiting individual newsboxes within 300 feet (91 m) of multiple ones on NYC sidewalks. 34SP's designers have designed and developed two generations of multiple newsboxes, the latest model garnering awards and positive press.
In 2007, 34SP went further than any other BID had gone by designing and developing a system to create parking regulation signs that were easier to read and understand than the signs placed by NYC's Department of Transportation. The project met with initial resistance from DOT, but 34SP was able to convince the agency that the new signs would be more attracive, more easily understood, and would convey exactly the same information that DOT's signs did. The resulting Regulated Parking Sign System won a Special Achievement Award from the International Downtown Association. NYC DOT spokesperson Chris Gebride expressed his organization's satisfaction with the signs to the NY Daily News: "...thanks to (DOT's) collaboration with the 34SP, it's easier and more convenient for drivers to find legal parking spaces."
Grand Central Partnership
In 1984 Mayor Ed Koch, at the behest of executives from many of the Fortune 500 companies that are headquartered near Grand Central Terminal in New York, asked Biederman to bring his efforts to bear on making the downtrodden area around the terminal commensurate with the offices nearby. Biederman formed the Grand Central Partnership, a Business Improvement District. Within five years crime had been reduced by 90%, graffiti and street drug markets had been eliminated, litter was gone from streets and sidewalks, and a beautiful $25 million streetscape project financed in the private debt markets had replaced the obsolete capital plant that the BID inherited. Biederman left GCP in 1999.
Chelsea Improvement Company
In 2007 some property owners in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood asked Biederman to apply the same innovative street management techniques to a five-block area on the western edge of the neighborhood, and the Chelsea Improvement Company was formed. Staffed by the same people who made 34th Street Partnership so successful, CIC worked with NYC’s Department of Transportation to develop a “green triangle”, a pedestrian-friendly area with movable chairs and tables that immediately became a haven in an area essentially devoid of passive spaces.
Currently, CIC is working to develop and install custom-made street signs, lampposts, pedestrian lights, trashcans, multiple newsboxes and treepits in the five-block area. The organization's efforts were described as "Cheering Up Chelsea" in an article in the New York Post.
Relations with New York City's government
By 1999, as the leader of three important and successful BIDs in midtown Manhattan, Biederman had acquired considerable stature as a person who could remedy urban situations long believed intractable. According to many observers, this growing stature made then-Mayor Giuliani uncomfortable and led to the Giuliani administration’s decision to try to force Biederman to relinquish his leadership role at two of the three BIDs he led. In the event, Biederman resigned as President of GCP after the Mayor’s office refused to renew GCP’s contract with NYC in 1998 and threatened to dissolve the BID. (GCP would later be reconstituted under new leadership.) Biederman continued to lead BPC and 34SP.
The action by the Giuliani administration attracted much attention, and many hitherto pro-Giuliani publications took the former mayor to task. The NY Post, a fervent supporter of both Giuliani and the BID movement, opined that the Mayor’s actions were “indefensible”. City Journal, published by the Manhattan Institute, questioned Giuliani’s motives in an article titled “BIDding Adieu”. The article suggested that, while Biederman’s “untiring will to realize his ideas” may have ruffled some feathers at City Hall, Giuliani’s professed reasons for forcing Biederman to resign did not stand up to close scrutiny. Biederman’s future as the head of the two remaining BIDs was unclear until the new administration of Mayor Bloomberg reached an agreement with Bryant Park Corporation and 34th Street Partnership to allow them to both be led by Biederman.
Biederman's organizations currently enjoy good relations with NYC government agencies, and the demonstrable success Biederman's BIDs have had in increasing the value of the commercial property within their borders and stimulating business was recently noted by NYC's Commissioner of Small Business Services Robert Walsh. "Business improvement districts improve the business climate and foster economic growth in their communities," Walsh told the NY Sun.
Since the late 1990s, Biederman has expanded his focus beyond New York as a private consultant. He has designed plans for new or improved parks in Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Miami, Atlanta, Dallas, Newark, and Richmond. He has also advised Business Improvement Districts in Newark, Miami, Baltimore, and Atlanta, as well as bringing to London (at the request of the Deputy Prime Minister) the framework for the first BIDs in the United Kingdom.
Biederman was in the vanguard of the BID movement in the United States. BIDs are privately funded organizations that perform functions and services traditionally regarded as the province of government over a defined urban area. The three organizations he co-founded and led are among the most successful and emulated BIDs in the world. A study released by New York University's Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban policy, released in 2007, indicated that large BIDs in NYC such as Biederman's increased the value of the commercial property in their districts by 15%. In the same article, Biederman noted that the property values in the Bryant Park and 34th Street partnership BIDs increased far in excess of 15%. For creating a successful template for the dozens of other BIDs that would be formed in the city, The Wall Street Journal credits Biederman and Bryant Park Corporation with “starting the revolution that revitalized New York”.
Due to the success of his ventures, Biederman is widely acknowledged as a leader in the field of public-private urban management, public space development, and public space management. He has written and lectured extensively in urban management, and has advised a number of other cities on the turnaround of parks and plazas, and on the establishment of Business Improvement Districts. His publications include articles in Urban Land and Harvard Business Review.
Biederman was recently the recipient of the Manhattan Institute’s first Lifetime Achievement Award for Social Entrepreneurship. This award is presented annually to a non-profit leader who has found innovative, private solutions for America’s most pressing social problems, and has been demonstrably effective and widely influential.
A former New York City Audubon Society Board Member and still an avid birder, Biederman was honored by the Society in 2007 as “one of those special people in the city who does great things for birds.” The tribute acknowledged Biederman’s efforts in establishing Bryant Park, Herald Square and Greeley Square as vital green spaces in the city that serve as sanctuaries for people, the city’s bird population, and for the thousands of birds that migrate across NYC annually.
Biederman’s organizations have won numerous awards for public space management, park restoration, innovative programming and street furniture design. Among the awards won by Bryant Park Corporation and 34th Street Partnership are: multiple Downtown Achievement Awards from the International Downtown Association; multiple Industrial Design Excellence Awards from the Industrial Designers Society of America & Business Week Magazine; the Urban Land Institute’s Award For Excellence; the President’s award from the American Society of Landscape Architects; the Landscape Presentation Award from the Preservation League of New York State; and a Certificate of Merit from the Municipal Art Society of New York.
Biederman is a magna cum laude graduate of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, Class of 1975, and earned an MBA with distinction from Harvard Business School in 1977. He served for four years as an adviser to the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Singapore, and has served on the national or local boards of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, the Trust for Public Land, and the City University of New York’s Graduate Center. He lives in Chappaqua, NY with his wife Susan, a fine arts attorney and author, and his children Robert (26) and Brooke (21).
- "Bryant Park: An out-of-town experience", New York Times, May 3, 1992.
- "Best Example of Urban Renewal" New York Magazine December 20, 1993
- "Best Design of 1992" Time Magazine January 4, 1993.
- Landscape Architecture November, 1994
- UrbanLand December, 1996
- “Capital Improvements in BIDs Enhance Property Values”, New York Real Estate Journal, June 30, 1997.
- "Rapid Appreciation in Herald, Times Squares" NY Sun April 19, 2007.
- “Herald & Greeley Squares win International Downtown Award”, Real Estate Weekly, September 6, 2000.
- "Flexing Retail Muscle on 34th Street" WWD Online May 7, 2007
- "Street Furniture Showdown" Gothamist January 7, 2008.
- "Easier on the Eye" Crain's New York Business July 31, 2006.
- "34th Street Partnership recognized for demystifying city parking" Real Estate Weekly October 3, 2007
- "Biz Group Curbs Confusion" NY Daily News March 22, 2007.
- "Cheering Up Chelsea"; NY Post January 17, 2008.
- “City Feud with BID Leader Ends”; Crain’s NY Business April 8, 2002.
- “BIDding Biederman Goodbye”; NY Post OpEd September 24, 1998.
- “BIDding Adieu”; City Journal, Autumn 1998, Vol 8 No. 3.
- "New Report Could Boost BIDs" NY Sun, July 26, 2007
- “The Private Sector Shows How to Run a City”; Wall Street Journal, Review & Outlook, May 20, 1998.