Steps New York City can take toward recovery

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New York City's health and economic struggles through the COVID-19 crisis trigger questions about how the city and region can recover.

Mayor Bill de Blasio estimated on Monday that by the end of the calendar year, the city will have spent $3.5 billion on direct healthcare alone. Last Thursday, he released his $85.3 billion “wartime” executive budget to the City Council.

The watchdog Independent Budget Office envisions 475,000 job losses through next March and a revenue hit to the city of up to $10 billion.

And the city still could be months away from reopening.

Meanwhile, as Congress constructs the fourth phase of relief, bipartisan support for more state and local government aid has been lacking.

Kathryn Wylde
“This is deeper. It’ll be longer. It’ll be harder to come back from," said Kathryn Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City.

“When we think about this crisis, we should think about it more as the fiscal crisis of the 1970s, than either 9/11 or the 2008-2009 Great Recession,” said Kathryn Wylde, president of the business group Partnership for New York City. “This is deeper. It’ll be longer. It’ll be harder to come back from.”

In the 1970s, Wylde said, “We lost the city, we lost a million people, we lost the commercial strips, we lost the local retailers in less than a decade, maybe five years. That loss was very fast. It took 40 years to rebuild to the kind of vitality that we became used to, by the end of 2019.

“So I don’t think we should underestimate the dimensions of this crisis and how long it’s going to take to work back.”

Despite severe budget stress, the city and state can take small but significant forward steps, civic leaders said. They include reviving the crippled restaurant industry, expanding the role of public-private partnerships and rebuilding multi-purpose infrastructure that fills transportation, climate and communications needs.

P3s could help bring needed overhaul to city and state operations, said Winston Fisher, a partner at Fisher Brothers real estate firm and co-chairman of the New York City Regional Economic Development Council, the state-level economic development body for the city.

“When you look at even the subways, is there some way with constrained capital budgets that you could think about bringing in private capital that could help modernize?” askedFisher, a former analyst at JPMorgan Chase & Co. “I think every area is right to look at, and we’re going to have to.

“Forget the ideology behind it. We don’t have the money. That’s just what it is. Public-private partnerships, I think, on almost anything that requires reform are always worth looking at, understanding you obviously always have to protect the citizens in the end.”

The immediacy of the crisis shouldn’t hinder city officials from looking to the future, according to Seth Pinsky, former president of the New York City Economic Development Corp.

“Think about the long term, which in many ways I think the city and the state are better equipped to do because you can make investments over time,” said Pinsky, now chief executive of the 92nd Street Y cultural and community center on the Upper East Side.

“You can therefore assume small, incremental investments, which the city and state probably can do, rather than large investments which at the moment, given budgets, probably is not possible.”

Some undertakings can pay for themselves, said Shaun Donovan, a former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and director of the federal Office of Management and Budget under President Obama, and a former city official.

Donovan was commissioner of the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development under Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Donovan filed paperwork recently to run for mayor in next year’s open-seat election.

“There’s even more urgency right now for every infrastructure dollar we spend, that we spend to meet multiple purposes,” he said. “Every time we rebuild a park, we ought to be insuring that that park is also flood protection if it’s on the waterfront. We ought to make sure that it’s building in wireless Internet and all of these other things.

"If we think about those infrastructure investments as separate and kind of single-purpose, we’re going to spend a lot more money than if we really start to integrate those.”

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City of New York, NY State of New York Center for an Urban Future Sell side Partnership for New York City Kathryn Wylde Budgets Public-private partnership Infrastructure