Flatiron NoMad Partnership’s Expansion Embraces Change, Embodies the ‘New’ New York

From 24th Street and Broadway, a view of Madison Square Park. | Photo courtesy of the BID

BY EILEEN STUKANE | Reemergence, reinvention, and expansion: The story of how—and why—the 2006-founded Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership became the Flatiron NoMad Partnership has all of these elements, amplified by the fact that it took place as the pandemic was tapering off.

“We are blessed that we have one of the best parks in all of the city at the heart of our BID [Business Improvement District],” says James Mettham, President of the Flatiron NoMad Partnership. “So how do we expand that out? Our mission, which we’ve kept pretty much the same, is to take tender love and care of the shared spaces that we all serve, promote the businesses, and provide really good places for people to feel comfortable—and bring in green horticulture flourishes as well as design elements.”

The expansion Mettham references happened when the previously Flatiron-focused BID embraced the NoMad (North of Madison Square Park) area, a move that saw the BID’s borders stretch to its current state—northernmost to a section of E. 33rd Street, south to sections of W. 19th St. btw. Fifth & Sixth Aves., west to both sides of Sixth Avenue, east to Lexington, and occasionally extending to Third Avenue. Basically, this Business Improvement District maps as a large squarish shape surrounding the smaller oasis of Madison Square Park.

Recently expanded, the squarish Flatiron NoMad BID now touches sections of E. 19th St. to the south, W. 33rd St. to the north, travels slightly west of Sixth Ave. and extends east to parts of Third Ave. | Photo via nyc.org

In October of this year, the BID was recognized by the International Downtown Association (IDA) and awarded its Downtown Achievement Award of Excellence for its successful BID expansion and rebranding of a new neighborhood identity.

The Flatiron NoMad Partnership is the third BID to be featured in Chelsea Community News’ series about how downtown Manhattan BIDs are repositioning their respective areas to meet the challenges and seize opportunities of the post-pandemic era. (To access previous entries in the series, click here and click here.)

New Yorkers may not be aware of the extent to which BIDs are transforming neighborhoods. These alliances of property and business owners (76 of them throughout NYC’s five boroughs) unite in a defined geographical area to keep it clean, beautified, and safe. They create marketing events, facilitate capital improvements, and encourage business development. In addition to all this, Flatiron NoMad has a unique feature: Broadway. The avenue slices right through the BID, and is crucial to Mayor Eric Adams’ “Broadway Vision” project for opening streets to pedestrians, reshaping the city outdoors from Herald Square to Union Square.

A view of the Flatiron North Public Plaza, from Broadway and 23rd St. | Photo courtesy of the BID

The pandemic’s Open Restaurants program, which was said to be temporary, has had a permanent effect on the Mayor and Governor, who have designed a plan to open up public streets as much as possible in New York City. A “New” New York action plan was formulated by a panel convened in 2022 by Mayor Eric Adams and Governor Kathy Hochul. Mayor Adams’ “Working People’s Agenda” includes a $375 million investment in new public spaces across the city. The Flatiron NoMad BID is an important player in the goal of opening up Broadway from Herald Square to Union Square. The Mayor and Governor would like to see walking, biking, outdoor dining, and open-air events. In fact, to fulfill Broadway Vision and public space projects in all boroughs, Mayor Adams has appointed New York City’s first Chief Public Realm Officer, Ya-Ting Liu. She is responsible for consulting with BIDs and City agencies to plan the future of our NYC’s streets.

The opening of lower Broadway to more pedestrians and cyclists is changing this part of the city. | Photo courtesy of the BID

For Broadway Vision, the Flatiron NoMad Partnership works with other BIDs—to its north, the 34th Street Partnership, and to its south, the Union Square Partnership. “This treatment of the street, slowed and shared, goes up to West 32nd Street, Greeley Square,” says Mettham. “It’s more of a meandering space meant for people, whether you’re shopping or coming out of a hotel, or you live here. We’ve brought that all the way down to our iconic plaza [Broadway and E. 23rd St. adjacent to Madison Square Park].” The Broadway Vision connection from East 21st to East 17th Street and Union Square has yet to be undertaken.

Contemporary photo of Tin Pan Alley by Raimund Koch.

The blocks in Flatiron NoMad shift atmospherically from street to street. In the new expansion, there’s the Flower District, Beaux Arts buildings, a once-thriving wholesale community that is diminishing, and Tin Pan Alley (W. 28th St. btw. Fifth & Sixth Aves., where the American Songbook originated)—alongside hotels and eateries that are opening at lightning speed. According to Mettham, the streets from 23rd to 33rd and 34th are zoned for manufacturing, but are “currently the focus of a study undertaken by the Department of City Planning as to whether or not to loosen those restrictions to allow for more housing. Right now, you can’t build housing without a special variance east of the Sixth Avenue corridor. We’re working with the [Mayor Adams] administration on that.”

When Chelsea Community News walked the BID with Mettham earlier this year. he pointed out how the BID is maintaining tree guards, greenery planters, and installing hanging baskets on lampposts along with the circular international country signs that had fallen into disrepair. What remains of the more than century-old Flower District spills onto the avenue from West 28th Street. “A lot of changing forces are at play, fewer flowers, more hotels—but the Flower District is still here and still a dynamic part of the neighborhood,” says Mettham, adding, “We’re trying to preserve that. New York City needs a Flower District.”

Reaching Broadway, a pause to absorb the beauty of what is now The Ned NoMad hotel in the 1903 Beaux Arts Johnston Building, once a store and office building. With the city and the BID working together, the stretch of Broadway in the East 20s has been freshly refurbished with bike lanes and designated areas for people to sit and enjoy being outside. The immense restaurant, The Smith with its open-air frontage and indoor/outdoor vibe, is a good fit for this upgraded section. “We have been spending a lot of time on Broadway over the last couple of years for the city’s Broadway Vision project, the public space transformation of this particular slice of neighborhood into a more pedestrian prioritized space,” says Mettham. “We got the Mayor to come out twice in three months, and had the city move at a rate of speed and implementation that is rare, three to four months. They milled the street, then repaved it, resurfaced it with a kind of epoxy gravel, and now it’s a public space, opened a year ago.”

In the Flatiron Public Plaza on Broadway, on the west side of Madison Square Park in the shadow of the 1902 Beaux Arts Flatiron building (soon to be renovated into condos), it’s clear that the BID has successfully transformed a traffic divide between Broadway and Fifth Avenue into two new plazas.

The iconic Flatiron Building, namesake of the Flatiron NoMad BID, majestic even when netted for renovation. | Photo by Eileen Stukane

The area is well-maintained and filled with people eating, chatting, seated at tables under yellow umbrellas. Eataly is right there on West 23rd St. and Fifth Avenue, and so is The LEGO Store. Look up across the park: There’s the former Metropolitan Life Insurance Company building with its Met Life Tower, now the New York Edition Hotel with its Clocktower restaurant. It’s a remarkable revitalization of a neighborhood that did not have a name or a particular identity but is now awash in tourists, restaurants, and hotels.

And there is more to come: “This whole concept from 21st Street up to Herald Square, we want to ultimately work with the city on rebuilding this as iconic, permanent, public space, a capital project, and fortunately the city has committed,” says Mettham, noting, “This administration has committed to put roughly $100 million over the next five-year capital plan to make this concept of a plaza that stretches from 21st Street to 32nd Street a reality. So we’re working closely with the park and the city on a capital final design plan for this whole thing.” This is a “New” New York for sure.

The “New” New York Broadway Vision plan prioritizes cyclists over cars. | Photo courtesy of the BID

Although the BID lost about 100 businesses in 2020 due to the pandemic, over 200 businesses have opened since 2020 (according to Erin Clarke of Anat Gerstein Communications, which does public relations for the BID). In all, there are about 36 million square feet of commercial space, over 30,000 residents, and over 600 different retailers—and hybrid workers are returning. While Madison Square Park is maintained by the Madison Square Park Conservancy, the BID beautifies the park’s perimeter with its planters. Its subcontracted sanitation team, StreetPlus, keeps its streets clean. “I think we have close to 200 tree pits that we’ve put out,” says Scott Kimmins, the BID’s Vice President for Operations. “The minute you walk out of our district, the mailboxes, lampposts are filled with stickers and graffiti. I find it rewarding to come out every day and make sure the place is all squared away and looking good. We also try to help the homeless as best we can.” Flatiron NoMad Partnership subcontracts with Urban Pathways, an organization with trained team members who engage with homeless individuals to help them move into housing.

During the Partnership’scelebration of Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead), the Mexican tradition of dancing in memory of loved ones took over the North Plaza. | Photo by Dave Hashim

Flatiron NoMad used its North and South Public Plazas on Broadway throughout the summer for music, art, dance, yoga, assorted fitness programs. Recently, on November 2, the BID celebrated the Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead) on the Flatiron North Plaza. For the free event, the BID partnered with the Division of Continuing Education at the School of Visual arts, Calpulli Mexican Dance Company, and Poster House. According to Mexican and Hispanic tradition, from October 31 to November 2 souls return to be with their loved ones. Altars are fashioned with food and other offerings to celebrate. At the event, a community altar was created. Winter Glow 2023 events kicked off on November 30 and run until December 21.

To keep up with all Flatiron NoMad Partnership events, follow @flatironny on Instagram or at Flatiron NoMad on Facebook.

Flatiron South Public Plaza, looking north. | Photo courtesy of the BID
Flatiron South Public Plaza, looking south. | Photo courtesy of the BID

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Note: This editorial content was made possible through a 2023 grant from the West Side Community Fund, in support of Chelsea Community News’ expansion into neighborhoods previously on the periphery of our editorial coverage area: The Flatiron/NoMad and Meatpacking Districts; Hudson Yards; and Hell’s Kitchen/Times Square. In May 2023, $100,000 was distributed to 21 organizations serving the west side of Manhattan. To learn more about the West Side Community Fund’s 2023 Grantees, click here and click here.

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