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Tenant Talks | Phoenix Rising: Promoting Business and Community in NYC Post-COVID-19

Last week, Rebecca Karp participated in the Commercial Observer’s Tenant Talks, speaking alongside Winston Fisher of Fisher Brothers, Hardik Bhatt of Amazon Web Services, and Richard Florida of Creative Class Group. The panel, moderated by Max Gross, Editor-in-Chief at the Commercial Observer, considered approaches for rebuilding New York City in a post-COVID world.

Find the recorded webinar here.

The discussion covered a wide range of topics — from the role of art and technology in recovery measures to how government agencies pivot resources during a crisis — but reflected three key recommendations: 1) subsidize and support small businesses; 2) balance business and community growth; and 3) invest in infrastructure.

Subsidize and Support Small Businesses

Small businesses are a critical economic engine in New York City. In the wake of COVID-19, many small businesses saw their ability to operate, or operate anywhere near the extent they once did, evaporate. Rebecca expressed that the best way to address this issue is simply: cash. There is a need for more cash relief funneled through programs that not only provide aid for employee costs, but help business owners account for fixed costs that remain unchanged during the pandemic such rent, insurance, and more, and that will remain even when businesses reopen at limited capacity later this year. Winston added that, in the long-term, there is a need to provide better credit access for small and medium businesses. Richard noted that small businesses also need support in the form of technical advisement, as many are having to rethink their entire business model. In a city that treasures our small business community, it is clear that new strategies are needed if small businesses will remain viable in the long run as commercial tenants as New York City reopens. (Learn more about Rebecca’s policy recommendations for small business recovery measures here).

Balance Business and Community Growth

Prior to the pandemic, New York City was in the midst of immense growth. It was, however, also witnessing unprecedented unaffordability. As New York plans its reopening, there is an opportunity to promote business growth alongside tactics that meaningfully support vulnerable communities. Winston recommends utilizing this moment of rebuilding post-COVID to move towards a “pro-business, progressive agenda.” Richard suggested tactics such as providing free or affordable space, made available by the crisis, to artists and others lacking resources, and creating city-sponsored programs that fund local arts and culture. Rebecca added that the pandemic has laid bare the inequalities in New York City and that now is the time to rebuild a more resilient, fairer city. Marketing NYC to companies across sectors will be important to reestablish job opportunities, along with establishing critical social safety nets such as family-supporting wages and high-quality jobs that offer long-term career growth.

Invest in Infrastructure

New York City must be proactive about planning for its long-term future. Investing in infrastructure is a key way to create jobs, garner civic pride, and help the city run better. Richard expressed that now is the time to improve public spaces, expand bicycle infrastructure, and invest in big-ticket items that will make lasting contributions to New Yorkers. Hardik added technology infrastructure to the list. He explained that governments across the country are using aging technology, which is not equipped to deal with rapidly changing needs, like those presented by COVID-19. In New York and other places, labor agencies were confronted with a tremendous amount of unemployment claims that their systems were completely unable to handle. In these scenarios, cloud-based commuting and AI become necessary tools for allowing governments to respond more quickly to changing needs.

Max ended the conversation by asking the panelists to name one key priority that cross-sector leaders should be considering right now.

  • Winston: “Rethink zoning as a tool for economic growth in the recovery. In assessing development, ask if it benefits the overall health of the city, rather than focusing on the small details.”

  • Richard: “Invest in infrastructure now for benefits in the long-term.”

  • Rebecca: “As soon as it’s safe, get development and construction projects going. Big projects such as Gateway, the LaGuardia Airport redevelopment and repairing the Port Authority wharves keep New York City on the leading edge and provide a diverse range of jobs.”

  • Hardik: “Address broadband inequality. The necessity for remote learning during the shutdown made many people’s lack of access to broadband stark. This is a problem we’ve long known about that needs to be tackled.”

Despite the many challenges discussed, the group remained optimistic about the future of New York City. The panelists expressed that even in the face of its hardships, the crisis provides the opportunity for the city to become a more welcoming and equitable place, one that promotes growing industries and protects small businesses, and is more resilient than ever before.


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