New York Law School Hosts Open Community Meeting on the Future of Tribeca Following the Pandemic

Panelists discuss options on how to organize and plan for Tribeca’s future post pandemic. Image credit: CityLand

Panel welcomed small business owners, residents, and other interested parties for a discussion regarding Tribeca and the neighborhood’s ongoing economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.  On March 4th, New York Law School’s Dean Anthony Crowell published an open letter in the Tribeca Citizen that discussed the economic impact of the pandemic on the Tribeca community and NYLS’s commitment to helping the neighborhood navigate its recovery following Covid-19. Dean Crowell wrote:

“Each business closure — every restaurant, boutique, and personal care provider that shutters — represents the death of someone’s dream. And the displacement of each business’ workers — who hail from across the city — means losing the very people who help to create and sustain our neighborhood. These are COVID’s other victims. The question before us now is, how do we harness our neighborhood’s collective strength and rebuild?”

The letter invited residents, business owners, community leaders, local organizations, and other stakeholders in Tribeca to an open meeting to discuss how the neighborhood could come together and move forward.

The open meeting took place virtually on March 24th, with 138 community members in attendance. The meeting began with brief opening remarks by Dean Crowell on NYLS’s desire to give back to the Tribeca community that it is proud to call home, drawing on its convening power and resources. Dean Crowell stated that following the meeting, NYLS would lead the creation of the Tribeca Pandemic Recovery Task Force with recommendations from local stakeholders that would determine what research and advocacy steps are needed next.

A panel discussion was then led by Chris Bruno ’12, a Senior Fellow with the NYLS Law and Leadership Institute, and Brian Kaszuba ’04, the Associate Director for the Center for NYC Law. The panelists included: Lance Lappin, a local resident and owner of Lance Lappin Salon; Alice Blank, Vice Chair of Manhattan Community Board 1; Reegan Brown, Project Manager, Neighborhood Planning Team of NYC Small Business Services; Andrew Rigie, Executive Director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance; James Famularo, President of Retail Leasing at Meridian Capital Group; Andreas Koutsoudakis, owner of Tribeca’s Kitchen and Partner at KI Law Group; David Steingard ’04, local resident and owner of Laughing Man Cafe; and Paul Mutter, local resident, Head of Global Fenics Sales at BGC Partners, and formerly of Goldman Sachs.

Lance Lappin spoke about how in the last year, salon owners who had never met before began to have meetings to discuss handling business closures. He discussed the importance of community collaboration, and how recovery will depend on bringing people back to offices.

Andrew Rigie said that while pandemic responses like the eviction moratorium and loans help to an extent, small business owners invest everything they have into their businesses, and there is a big risk of businesses losing everything while the city waits for the end of the pandemic. Rigie proposed that people seek out information regarding what large companies in the area are planning with regard to returning to the office, as that knowledge can help local businesses plan.

Reegan Brown discussed how the Neighborhood Development Division at New York City Small Business Services works with community-based organizations to promote neighborhood growth through various means including the oversight of business improvement districts citywide and by offering assistance, training, and tools. Brown talked about Small Business Services’ COVID-19 resources and the benefits of establishing merchants associations.

Andreas Koutsoudakis talked about how, after tragically losing his father a year ago to COVID-19, he had to take care of his restaurant while other neighborhood restaurants that he represented as their attorney also struggled during the pandemic. He said that Tribeca benefits from being home to many skilled professionals across industries, and he proposed that residents and business owners think about how they can help their neighbors based on the skills they have. He stressed that communication was critical for the neighborhood’s recovery.

James Famularo discussed the impact of the pandemic on retail leasing. He offered a sobering statistic: While 8,000 to 9,000 retail vacancies are typically found between 97th Street and South Street Seaport, since Covid, that number has climbed to over 51,000 retail vacancies. He also discussed issues aspiring small business owners are having in seeking liquor licenses from community boards and in securing permits from city agencies like the Department of Buildings and the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Alice Blank replied to Famularo’s complaint, saying that Manhattan CB 1 has been responding promptly and fairly to a high volume of requests and that the board has been sensitive to handling issues and regulations. Famularo clarified that he’s seen businesses run into issues primarily with other community boards across Manhattan, but that his experience with CB 1 was positive. Blank discussed the importance of community boards in addressing a variety of local issues and that community participation is critical.

David Steingard emphasized how people are now seeing that small businesses are essential to the fabric of a community. He discussed how businesses can struggle with marketing and handling regulations. He also discussed the need for a neighborhood vision, asking how small businesses are expected to navigate what a community wants if those needs aren’t expressed. As an example, he described the neighborhood’s mixed reaction to outdoor seating.

Paul Mutter discussed the role that corporate neighbors may be able to play in assisting in business recovery, and asked the panel to think about who else in the community needed to be added to the conversation.

During the audience Q&A session, audience members eagerly submitted comments to the panel, and most expressed support for the plan to form a task force to continue to push for Tribeca’s recovery. The audience was made up of a diverse group of residents, representatives from local elected officials, business owners, and community leaders from groups such as Community Board 1, Tribeca Alliance, the Tribeca Trust, and Friends of Finn Square.

Dean Crowell provided closing remarks, and proposed that moving forward the Task Force focus on areas such as small businesses, hospitality, real estate, marketing and outside partnerships, and community livability. He invited anyone interested in working on one of these areas to contact with their contact information and area of interest. NYLS will soon share updates on building a collaborative and effective Task Force.

To watch the full Open Meeting, click here or watch below.


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