This month, the SoHo Broadway Initiative is transitioning into a new chapter, as Mark Dicus, our Executive Director for the past nine years, is moving on to a new position with the Fifth Avenue Association.
Brandon Zwagerman, our Director of Planning and Community Engagement, will take on the role of Acting Executive Director while the Initiative conducts a search for our next Executive Director over the coming months.
In review of Mark’s tenure at SoHo Broadway Initiative, he was our founding Executive Director from 2014. We have had many phases of development and Mark led us through the initial stage of establishing our BID and contributed to the year-after-year growth of our non-profit community organization.
During the first few years, he was our only full-time employee and focused on getting the Initiative and its baseline services established. Mark was responsible for administering the organization and overseeing the Initiative’s services. Although he set up the office, IT, and accounting, most of his work was focused on the street and the community.
SoHo Broadway, before the Initiative, had garbage spilling over from single open receptacles placed at street intersections. As a business owner over decades in SoHo, I remember the overwhelming amount of rubbish in the 1990s due to the increase of visitors to the area, as well as a lack of resources to keep the district clean. When we signed a contract with SoHo-based ACE (Association of Community Employment Programs) to provide daily supplemental sanitation services including street cleaning and graffiti removal, everything changed for the better in the neighborhood. Mark was instrumental in working with our Clean Team, not only ensuring the daily schedule was in rotation, but also organizing lunches and events to show our gratitude. By the spring of 2015, Mark oversaw the purchase and deployment of 30 trash receptacles in the district, another game-changer in managing daily maintenance.
Mark then turned his attention to safety, with a focus on sidewalk congestion, illegal street vendors and flagging potential issues, by creating and filling a new Director of Public Safety and Operations role. Mark also led a team that created the Sidewalk Vending Guidebook in 2016.
As part of the growth of SoHo Broadway Initiative, a Planning and Community Engagement position was created. This role has been filled by Brandon Zwagerman since 2019 and has expanded the Initiative’s capacity in developing and directing programs, events, community engagement efforts, and planning initiatives.
While clean and safe would always be front and center in his work, Mark also saw how important it was to reimagine SoHo Broadway’s public spaces to improve quality of life. Over the years, Mark spearheaded several pilots and initiatives in partnership with multiple city agencies that demonstrated how the existing streets and sidewalks can be adapted in ways that beautify and improve SoHo Broadway’s public spaces. These efforts included installing public art (Treasure the Green by Zigi Ben-Haim) through DOT’s Art program (summer 2017), hosting Howard Street First Fridays through DOT’s Weekend Walks program (fall 2019), designing and installing a street light banner program (spring 2020 to today), maintaining curb extensions with planters in partnership with DOT (2020 to today), hosting Little Prince Plaza through DOT’s Open Streets program (fall 2021) and most recently the design and installation of the planter-topped bin box prototype on Prince Street between Broadway and Crosby Street through the joint DOT and DSNY Clean Curbs program (summer 2023).
Some of the more challenging moments in Mark’s term included participation in years of stakeholder and public meetings leading up to the 2020 SoHo/NoHo Neighborhood Plan and rezoning, and the development of a framework and vision plan for the SoHo Broadway’s streets and sidewalks to improve the pedestrian experience and operations. Leadership comes with many challenges and any leader must be prepared for navigating the diversity of public opinion; Mark never shied away from these difficult tests and always earnestly worked to seek solutions and compromise.
The 2020 Covid-19 pandemic and the death of George Floyd brought SoHo into a time of reflection. As stores shut down, boarded with plywood, artists in the area were compelled to use these boards as a canvas which resulted in an unprecedented display of street art throughout SoHo. Hundreds of boards were painted, but when stores reopened, Mark, Brandon, and the SoHo Broadway Clean Team worked tirelessly to recover, store, and organize these artworks and return them to artists who wished to take their works home or have them relocated to a storage site. During the challenging time of the pandemic Mark and Brandon also launched a program of virtual community roundtable meetings to provide an opportunity for businesses and residents to connect and discuss community issues along with civic leaders and City agencies.
As a founding board member of SoHo Broadway Initiative, and now the President, I am reflective during this transition as we support Mark Dicus as he enters a new opportunity to thrive at another business improvement district and to continue to make a positive impact on New York City. All of us at the SoHo Broadway Initiative and in the district thank him and wish him all the best.
SoHo Broadway Initiative