Blaming non-stop media coverage of the first locally transmitted Zika virus outbreak in the nation, the Wynwood Business Improvement District (BID) wants to seek government funds to compensate area businesses for lost revenue, hire more healthcare workers to test residents and people who work in the neighborhood. They are also seeking money for a marketing campaign to dial down public panic over the mosquito borne illness.
On Monday, during an emergency BID meeting packed with business owners and television news crews, the BID passed a resolution to petition the city of Miami, Miami-Dade County, the state of Florida and the federal government for economic relief.
The BID board is also demanding more public disclosure about the epidemiological facts of the Zika cases that the Florida Department of Health has documented in an area north of downtown Miami that includes most of Wynwood and parts of Overtown, Edgewater and Midtown. Since the cases are believed to be the first to be spread by a locally borne mosquito, the outbreak has attracted worldwide attention from news organizations.
“We have gotten an unfair shake in the media,” said BID Chairman Joseph Furst. “The beauty of Wynwood is that we did all of this all alone. Now that Wynwood is the national story, unfortunately with a negative [spin], I really believe through our marketing effort it is the perfect opportunity to make this a national story on a neighborhood that is the best case scenario on how to create a dynamic arts and cultural district.”
The BID’s action came amid an update by a state health department official who said that mosquitos eradicated in the neighborhood in the past week had not tested positive for Zika. Reynald Jean, the health department’s epidemiology and disease control director in Miami, said teams of healthcare workers are still canvassing the neighborhood, testing residents and people who work in Wynwood for the virus, which can produce a fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes. In pregnant women, Zika can cause birth defects.
Jean told attendees that he could not provide a definitive timetable as to when and if Wynwood and the other areas will no longer be threatened by Zika-carrying mosquitoes.
Last week, The Real Deal polled nearly a dozen brokers, developers and businesses to get their take on the effects of Zika in Wynwood. Most downplayed the role of the virus on rents, deals and values. Lyle Chariff, president of Chariff Realty Group, said some are taking advantage of the neighborhood’s vulnerability to lure prospective tenants to areas beyond the infected zone.
Most in Wynwood said it would take a long time for Zika to impact rents.
At the meeting, some bar and restaurant owners complained that they experienced 50 percent to 60 percent drops in business this past weekend due to round-the-clock negative news stories about the Zika presence in Wynwood.
“We feel the line ‘open for business’ is completely ineffective against the media panic that has been stirred up,” said one owner. “This is a crisis for our business.”