The tragic events of Sept. 11 affected all Americans and millions of people around the world. Among those most affected by the attacks and their aftermath are those of us who live and work and own small businesses in Lower Manhattan.
I am a life-long resident of the Lower East Side and represent that community, including the financial district, civic center, World Trade Center site, Chinatown and much of Battery Park City.
Nearly one year after that horrible day, we have made progress in our efforts to stabilize and revitalize our community, yet we still have much to do. Wall Street and the New York Stock Exchange, along with many corporations, make Lower Manhattan one of the world’s financial epicenters. But the area also includes homes, schools, restaurants and shops. Residents have worked hard for many years to create a vibrant, diverse 24-hour-a-day community and have remained steadfastly dedicated to it since Sept. 11.
In the days and weeks immediately following the attack, many residents had to leave their homes and thousands more worried about the effects of the contaminants contained in the massive plume of ash, smoke and debris from the collapse of the World Trade Center. After months of intensive efforts, city, state and federal officials acknowledged our concerns regarding the environment and public health, and the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) agreed to pay for and direct cleanup and testing of apartment interiors throughout Lower Manhattan. We are still working to ensure EPA programs continue to respond to residents’ needs.
Priming the Pump
The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC), the state entity managing the redevelopment of the World Trade Center site, is overseeing a $220 million federally funded program to support and revitalize residential communities in Lower Manhattan, including Chinatown, Little Italy and other parts of the Lower East Side. The program will provide one-time cash grants to families who lived in the area prior to Sept. 11, as well as financial incentives to new residents.
Recently, the LMDC included in its preliminary plans the elimination of residential buildings adjacent to Ground Zero. Although these buildings sustained damage and will require extensive cleaning, their residents want and expect to return. Demolishing any viable residential structures would symbolize a lack of support for the downtown residential community. After I expressed my concerns to the executive director of the LMDC, he indicated the plans would be changed and the buildings would be preserved.
Lower Manhattan’s commercial community, shops, restaurants and other small businesses were particularly hard hit, with 120,000 jobs lost since Sept. 11. There was a significant reduction in tourism in Chinatown, the South Street Seaport and other areas, partly as a result of new limitations on tour bus parking and the perception that downtown was difficult to get around and depressing to visit.
A range of federally funded plans are supporting downtown businesses and keeping jobs in the area, including more than $100 million for loans and grants to small businesses. While these programs have been successful, some required fine-tuning to ensure they are accessible to small businesses in Lower Manhattan.
I advanced the idea of sales tax-free days as a strategy for Lower Manhattan and made it a priority throughout budget negotiations. The sales tax-free days-three three-day periods, one each in June, July and August-were included in the final enacted budget. During these periods, purchases of goods and services up to $500 in all areas south of Houston Street are exempt from state sales tax. The city also lifted its sales tax during those periods.
The sales tax-free days have bolstered downtown businesses, in part, I believe, because they symbolize the state’s and city’s commitment to revitalizing our community and the recognition that innovative measures are necessary. These actions are important symbols to all of us who live downtown and to all New Yorkers.
Ultimately, these innovative initiatives are helping to revitalize both the local economy and the spirit of all who live and work here. I am convinced that through these actions and an unshakable faith in the future of our community, we will show people everywhere that a vibrant Lower Manhattan will continue to be a great place for New Yorkers to raise families and build thriving businesses and for tourists from around the world to visit and enjoy.
Sheldon Silver has been Speaker of the New York State Assembly since 1994. He represents what may be the largest part of Silicon Alley.