Miami Beach now a Zika zone: real estate, tourism could be stung

Wynwood BID chairman refutes Gov. Rick Scott's claims of state financial help for businesses

Aug.August 19, 2016 04:30 PM

Zika has spread to Miami Beach, with five newly confirmed cases, Gov. Rick Scott announced on Friday.

Scott said that the Florida Department of Health has added a new Zika active transmission zone in Miami Beach that runs south to north from 8th Street to 28th Street and east to west from the beach to the Intracoastal Waterway.

The spread of Zika is sure to have a dampening effect on tourism and the real estate industry in Miami Beach. The new 1.5-square-mile zone encompasses Lincoln Road, Ocean Drive and Collins Avenue, filled with hotels, restaurants and shops that are popular with tourists as well as locals. The area is also full of luxury homes, condominiums and commercial real estate targeted by investors. And it includes the Miami Beach Convention Center and such high-end hotels as the W South Beach, the Delano South Beach and 1 Hotel and Homes.

“Tourism is a driving force of our economy,” Scott said during a press conference. “And this industry has the full support of the state in this fight against this Zika virus.”

Previously, only one area in the country had been declared an active transmission zone for the virus: a one-square-mile chunk of Miami that included Wynwood, parts of Edgewater, Midtown and the Design District. Businesses and tourism in Wynwood, one of Miami’s hottest areas, have already been hit hard by Zika fears.

State health officials have pinpointed more than a dozen cases of Zika transmitted by locally borne mosquitoes in that one-square-mile. Overall, to date, there are 36 confirmed cases of locally transmitted Zika. The virus is chiefly of concern to pregnant women, potentially causing birth defects like microcephaly. For others, Zika can present symptoms like rash and fever, or possibly none at all.

On Friday, health officials said they have cleared 17 blocks in the Wynwood area as Zika-free after aggressive testing found no continued evidence of active transmissions.

And during his press conference, Scott said that the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity had already contacted 55 Wynwood businesses to offer assistance in recouping losses incurred from the lack of customers and tourists visiting the area.

Yet, Joseph Furst, chairman of the Wynwood Business Improvement District refuted Scott’s claims that his administration is helping businesses and property owners in Wynwood from the negative economic impact caused by the ongoing locally transmitted Zika virus outbreak.

Furst told The Real Deal that it was the first time he had heard about any state assistance.

“I think it’s not happening,” Furst said. “Our executive director has not been in touch with the governor’s office for aid or help. Yet he’s here telling us he has reached out to 55 businesses. That’s hard for me to justify.”

Furst, who is Goldman Properties managing director for Wynwood, said that during the first two weeks of the Zika “crisis” there was a 50 to 60 percent drop in business. “People are coming back,” he said. “But there’s definitely been economic damages and economic loss. And we absolutely expect for the city, county and state governments to help us.”

He also criticized Scott and state health officials for creating so-called Zika zones like the one that includes Wynwood.

“I wish the messaging was focused more on how to get better testing to people and how get the entire community better informed as opposed to labeling boxes around our cities and counties,” Furst said. “If I had an opportunity to speak to the governor, I would urge him to lift the box from the Wynwood, Midtown, Design District area.”

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