Bridge Street Development Corporation’s Innovative Community and Business Initiatives in Central Brooklyn
By Fern Gillespie
When major institutions like the Bridge Street Development Corporation partner with community groups like the Tompkins Avenue Merchant Association (TAMA), the benefits to the community are immeasurable. And so are the business success stories, large and small — which Our Time Press is currently following. This past Sunday, we connected with Gregory Anderson, BSDC President and CEO, at the TAMA Open Streets event for photos. In a recent interview, below, Mr. Anderson, shared some of BSDC’s other Success Stories. Anderson, who joined BSDC in 2019, has over 25 years of public finance investment banking experience.
OTP: Is being able to offer below-market rates driving the success of the Tompkins Avenue Merchants Association (TAMA) Open Streets Program? Is it possible to replicate the Tompkins Avenue success without below-market rate storefronts?
GA: The below market rate is not directly applicable. Throughout the pandemic, many of our local merchants experienced substantial hardship and the potential threat of closure. Our Commercial District Needs Assessment of six Bed-Stuy commercial corridors showed that our local small business experienced a 70% decline in revenues due primarily to the loss of foot traffic caused by the pandemic. Bridge Street was fortunate to be among the few community development corporations of color to receive OPEN STREET approval for a commercial corridor to help increase foot traffic and commerce in Bedford Stuyvesant. The TAMA Open Streets Program brought the business and community together and enabled many businesses to survive and thrive in the midst of the pandemic.
OTP: Why is TAMA a model for cities throughout the country?
GA: All of our work at Bridge Street is done through partnerships, and TAMA is an excellent example of the importance of partnerships and collaborations. The old saying that there is strength in numbers and we accomplish together, which we cannot do alone, is the formula that contributes to our success. Over 30 civic and nonprofit organizations, small businesses, and major corporations recently joined forces for the successful, one-day Destination Nostrand event in Northern Crown Heights.
OTP: What other Merchants Associations are working with BSDC — like Lewis Avenue? What’s your strategy for bringing it to the level of Tompkins Avenue.?
GA: We are working to establish or revitalize Merchant Associations with Tompkins Avenue, Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey, Nostrand Avenue (Crown Heights), and Lewis Avenue. We are just beginning work on a new Commercial District Needs Assessment for Crown Heights. Our strategy is to build upon each commercial corridor’s unique characteristics and strengths.
OTP: How has the MY BASE youth program impacted young people in the community? Is there a difference in involvement post-COVID?
GA: MYBASE, Motivated Youth Building All Self-Empowerment youth program, was one of the few programs during the pandemic that offered an opportunity for teens and young adults to work and convene safely outdoors or in large open spaces areas under strict COVID protocol and give back to the community. MYBASE began in 2013 and has been with Bridge Street since 2015. It is a legacy program of the late Al Vann. He was the first funder as a City Council Member. These MYBASE young people became advocates early on to have the Summer Youth Employment Program restored in 2020. It was remote at the time and increased in 2021. The impact on Bridge Street Development is that our enrollment has grown significantly in 2022 for Summer Youth Employment from 350 in 2020 to 1,100 this summer. MYBASE young people have been visible in the community and a resource for many civic groups through their service and volunteerism. The interest in participating has grown each year, and we are incredibly proud of the success of our MYBASE alumni, many of whom have returned as Bridge Street employees.
OTP: Why is it essential for residents to get involved in the BedStuy Works Alliance of Block and Tenant Associations?
GA: The Alliance is one way we help empower community residents to advocate and implement strategies as we fight for affordable housing, relief for homeowners and tenants, and other important community issues such as sanitation and public safety. The Alliance has been one of the most sustainable and impactful volunteer groups regarding leadership development, community development, and narrative change in Bedford Stuyvesant. Being involved in the blocks association, we have a voice, and it’s how we create change.
OTP: What are the major issues raised by homebuyers in your workshops and seminars?
GA: Bridge Street made the strategic decision in 2021 to no longer offer first-time homebuyer workshops and seminars and foreclosure prevention counseling. This decision was made to provide greater focus and energy on addressing the major issue raised by community residents looking to become homebuyers—affordability.
We can no longer afford to live in our community. Bridge Street is addressing that issue and trying to develop strategies and programming that allow us to keep our community affordable. Gentrification plays a big part. As gentrification happens and prices go up, we can no longer afford to live here. We had a program to keep it in the family and how to preserve the financial legacy in the family. The program I’m looking at to create now on home ownership is to keep it in the community. Bed-Stuy had one of the highest homeownership by African Americans nationally. That certainly has deteriorated. How do we make sure we can buy homes in our community?
OTP: Tell us about your economic development initiatives, including BSDC First time Investors program — is it impacting the community? Why is it important to invest?
GA: Numerous statistics demonstrate that the wealth gap between Black and white Americans has been persistent and extreme. The First Time Investors Program that we have successfully implemented with Signature Bank for over 19 years is one of many economic development initiatives that Bridge Street uses to help close that gap. The First Time Investors Program consists of a free 6-session course offered once a week that educates community members on the importance of managing their expenses and credit and provides the opportunity to build wealth through participation in the financial markets with investing and retirement planning. Participants invest $500 of their funds, and Signature Bank gives $1,000, so each participant begins the process of saving, investing, and growing their wealth with $1,500.
Since the program began, active participants have amassed close to $500,000. One example of why investing is important is the individual who recently closed their investment account and used the proceeds to purchase her first home. Our other economic development initiatives include helping over 600 predominately women and minority-owned businesses obtain grants and additional funding. We also offer small business grants, technical assistance, disaster relief, open streets, district needs assessment, and economic development marketing campaigns.
OTP: What are some of BSDC’s planned upcoming projects?
GA: We are working to implement a Restorative Justice program to offer a positive path forward for our young people most directly impacted by gun violence. We will also be expanding our internship and training programs for young adults. Our most significant growth area continues to be in economic development programs and activities supporting small and startup businesses. In real estate development, our objective is to assist in developing new programs and identifying new funding sources that help redefine what affordability means in our community for rental and home ownership and commercial and community facility spaces.