As the city’s restaurants and shops look to bounce back, they’re contending with some serious quality-of-life issues.
Nearly 20 percent of the city’s hotels are providing shelter for homeless New Yorkers. The impact on the surrounding streetscape is hard to miss.
“When you’re in the business as long as I’ve been, you get to recognize what somebody on heroin looks like,” explained Dan Biederman, head of three business improvement districts in Midtown. “There are a lot of street conditions we’ve never seen in all of our years of running the BIDs.”
Barbara Askins, head of the 125th Street Business Improvement District in Harlem, concurred. She said she now has to ask several loiterers to step aside — instead of the usual one — so she can enter her office building.
Some stores covered their windows with plywood at the start of the shutdown and more boarded up after looting broke out. Biederman said perhaps a quarter of his districts’ stores that erected plywood have yet to remove it.
Although that is temporary, he fears store owners and landlords will replace their open, grated-style barriers with unsightly solid gates that he spent years trying to banish.
“We’re quite worried owners and tenants will put solid gates back in once the plywood goes down,” said Biederman, who runs the BIDs for the areas around Bryant Park, Grand Central Terminal and 34th Street. (They should not: According to a 2009 city law, solid gates left in place may remain until July 2026, but only see-through gates may be installed.)
Biederman joined Askins and Jessica Lappin, president of the Alliance for Downtown New York, Wednesday evening for a TRD Talks webinar to discuss issues facing BIDs. Restaurants were allowed to open for outdoor dining and retail shops for curbside pickup June 22 as the city entered phase 2 of reopening.
Lawmakers had planned to allow indoor dining to resume on a limited basis on Monday. But this week Gov. Andrew Cuomo pushed that back indefinitely, saying it’s not yet safe given how the virus typically spreads.
Lappin, a former City Council member, said restaurateurs are already despondent, and the longer timeline means fewer will be able to stay in business.
“It took the city an awfully long time to come up with rules for outdoor dining, which I’m glad that they did and we’ve been working with them, but it’s not that complicated,” she said. “I think it’s going to be grim and I think a lot of these restaurants won’t survive.”
Crime statistics are also on the rise, which has many concerned that New York is sliding back to the “bad old days” of the 1970s through the mid ’90s.
“It’s not all the way back to the way it was, but the signs of it getting there are changing every day,” Askins said.
The panelists agreed that with cuts to the city budget, businesses will look more to BIDs to provide services.
Contact Rich Bockmann at [email protected] or 908-415-5229