By the 1970’s 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 chaors 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.
A widely varied program of musical performances entertains crowds during the warm weather months. In 2005 Biederman and BPC realized a long-held dream of making Bryant Park a year-round destination by introducing The Pond, a free-admission ice skating rink that instantly became a fixture in the Manhattan holiday scene and that the NY Times has dubbed "NYC's best".
Biederman realized that a busy park needed well-functioning restrooms to ensure that visitors prolong their stay, so insisted that the parks restrooms, which had been closed for 35 years, be renovated and re-opened in 1992. The resulting restrooms have won lavish praise and provide New Yorkers with a rare commodity: luxurious public facilities open to everyone. A second renovation solidified their status as, in NYC Parks commissioner Adrian Benepe's words, "the gold standard for park comfort stations.
Again influenced by Whyte, Biederman believed that an important barometer of how safe a park is perceived is the ratio of women to men in the attendance, with a 50-50 split between men and women the ideal. early on, he instituted daily crowd counts, taken in the early afternoon, of both men and women. In an article in the New Yorker about Bryant park's crowd counting, Biederman explained that "women pick up on visual cues of disorder better than men do. If a crowd is skewing overwhelmingly male, get out as soon as possible. True to Biederman's vision, crowds at Bryant Park, which reach 5,000 on warm, sunny days, are evenly split between the sexes.
Bryant Park is one of the signature examples of New York’s return to greatness. Essentially crime-free, the park is filled with office workers on sunny weekdays, city visitors on the weekends, and revelers during the holidays. Daily attendance counts often exceed 800 people per acre, making it the most densely occupied urban park in the world. A study by an accounting firm has documented huge increases in value for real estate surrounding the park. In 1995, an article about midtown office workers who had found the newly reopened park a good place to go to after work bore the headline “Town Square of Midtown” and the moniker has stuck.
BIDs exist to improve conditions in their districts so that businesses thrive, property values rise, and new businesses seek an address associated with the district. The dramatic rise in real estate values in the area around the Bryant Park is a testament to BPC's success in those efforts. Increasingly, buildings and businesses in the park's vicinity are incorporating a reference to the park in their names. This trend, noted first by the NY Times in 2003 is epitomized by the new skyscraper being built on the NW corner of 42nd Street and Sixth Avenue, which is officially named Bank of America Tower at 1 Bryant Park. This is only natural, the NY Times noted, because Bryant Park itself has "become a brand". Another sign of the park's rising public profile was National Public Radio's decision to name the network's morning talk show "The Bryant Park Project" when it was launched in 2007. NPR's NYC office sits just south of the park. Such enthusiasm to appropriate the Bryant Park name "would have been unthinkable 20 years earlier", wrote Julia Vitullo-Martin of the NY Sun in 2004. In that article, HBO chief Michael Fuchs, whose company's HQ sits across 42nd Street from the park, noted that when HBO moved there from midtown in the 1980's, the area was "the Wild West. Noone wanted to go outside.
Although Bryant Park is a public park, BPC accepts no public funds, and operates the park on revenue from assessments on surrounding property within the BID and revenues generated by public events. The number of events at the park has grown significantly, and this has caused some consternation by people who fear that the park will be dominated by private entitities and will thus be inaccessible to the public. Biederman and BPC feel strongly that a successful park is a crowded one, and that a full slate of events is essential in drawing people to the park. They also believe that the revenue paid by sponsors of events is necessary to keep the park well-maintained. To address fears of the park being lost to the public, BPC insists that all events are free and open to the public, the lone exceptions being the fashion shows that take over the park in the winter and late summer. Biederman has often publicly expressed his frustration that the fashion shows, which are not under BPC's control, take over the park for two weeks twice yearly. "They pay us a million dollars. It's a million dollars I would happily do without", he told the Los Angeles Times. Biederman is especially frustrated that the fashion shows dominate the park during two crucial times: in late summer, when the weather is perfect for park visitors; and in early February, necessitating the early closure of BP's popular free-admission ice-skating rink.
Bryant Park Corporation, founded and run by Mr. Biederman for 28 years, is a model for hundreds of other public space renovations and creations all over the world.
In January of 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 1990’s 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 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 the exact 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.
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.
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 Mr. 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’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 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 (21) and Brooke (16).