Rick Scott declares Wynwood is Zika-free, business owners relieved

Aerial view of Wynwood, Gov. Rick Scott and a Mosquito
Aerial view of Wynwood, Gov. Rick Scott and a Mosquito

Gov. Rick Scott on Monday announced Zika is no longer a threat to Wynwood, even though the U.S. Centers for Disease Control has not officially lifted a health advisory warning pregnant women, those who want to get pregnant and their partners to avoid the trendy Miami neighborhood.

“This is really a great day for Wynwood,” Scott said during a press conference at the San Paul Gallery at Wynwood Walls. “Everybody should come back to enjoy themselves.”

Flanked by local politicians and business leaders, Scott said the health department has not identified a new, locally born case of Zika in the past 45 days, which is the point that the CDC is expected to cancel the travel ban in Wynwood and surrounding neighborhoods in a one-square-mile area north of downtown Miami. The announcement was made just days after state health officials expanded a second Zika zone in Miami Beach, extending to 63th Street.

Wynwood’s commercial property owners and their tenants have been anxiously waiting for the area to be removed as a Zika hot zone in the wake of a slowdown in foot traffic and business in the neighborhood since the first cases of the virus  which causes birth defects in unborn fetuses — were reported in late July. The neighborhood was the first community in the continental U.S. impacted by locally transmitted Zika.

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Scott said his administration is actively offering assistance to local businesses that have been negatively affected by the Zika scare. “Our Department of Economic Opportunity has been in Wynwood offering businesses low interest loans,” Scott said. “We are going to keep doing everything we can.”

Following the press conference, Joseph Furst, chairman of the Wynwood Business Improvement District, told The Real Deal that property owners and local business owners are excited that the governor has declared the neighborhood Zika free. “It’s good to have Gov. Scott here preaching what we have been saying that [Wynwood] is safe and for people to come back,” Furst said.

Furst, who is also managing director for Goldman Properties, said Zika has been a constant topic of conversation for banks, investors, landlords and tenants. “Whether it is related to financing, or leasing or business development, it absolutely had an impact,” Furst said. “Over the last several weeks, things have been getting much better. People are recognizing that this is a problem not just exclusive to Wynwood.”

Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado said the Miami City Commission recently approved during first reading an upcoming budget grant of $248,000 for the Wynwood Business Improvement District that can only be offered to businesses that have cut back employees’ hours. He said the city is also working on offering interest free loans to local merchants.

“The aim is to avoid unemployment,” Regalado said. “As of today, more than 10 festivals and more than 15 local events have been cancelled because of Zika. Really, it is hurting.”