By Karen Rubin, News-Photos-Features.com
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran is seizing the reins to revitalize village downtowns so battered by the forced shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.
On just the first day of reopening, after 67 days of the New York On Pause quarantine, she announced new programs aimed at giving a lifeline to small businesses and restaurants: a plan to open main streets for outdoor dining and a program to deliver complete PPE kits to small businesses passed over by the federal program.
“It’s a historic day,” Curran said, standing in front of 317 Main Street, a restaurant on Farmingdale’s Main Street. “We’re beginning to get back to work under Phase 1, representing 17 percent of county’s economy, while mitigating risk and controlling spread.
“The shutdown has come at a high cost for our county’s downtowns, the restaurants and mom and pop shops that previously were the lifeblood of communities.” Cutting off that business activity is why there has been such a uptick in county residents at a food drive in Valley Stream.
But, Curran said pointing to the symbiotic relationship between business and local government, “the success of business in Nassau County is linked to the services county government provides – police, fire, EMT, health, DPW all continuing to provide services; 40% of the county’s budget is generated from sales tax, so the success of business is also tied to the success of the county to provide services.”
Curran announced new programs aimed at spurring the county’s economy:
Open Streets, being piloted in the Village of Farmingdale, creates a fast track for municipalities to get approval from Nassau County to close county roads so that restaurants can provide outdoor dining – still under the guidelines of curbside and take-out – so that restaurants can achieve a level of business to be viable.
The municipally will be responsible for the layout on the street, making sure tables maintain six-foot separation. Restaurants will simply deliver food to the table.
Curran is expediting the permitting process for county roads so a village could, say, close the street one or two nights a week. “No paperwork, snail mail or fees and we are committed to approving the permit within one week,” she said.
It may not work for all communities, but those municipalities who see the benefit can apply at nassaucounty.gov/openstreets.
Farmingdale initially presented the idea to transform its Main Street to outdoor dining. The plan will provide for 424 socially distanced seats (utilizing parking lots as well).
A second business-friendly economic-revitalization initiative is to facilitate acquiring PPE so that local businesses can meet the guidelines for reopening.
“One of the main questions from chambers has been where businesses can get the PPE for their employees,” Curran said. The county is enlisting its Industrial Development Agency (IDA), which in partnership with the federal Housing & Urban Development agency, is investing $500,000 to purchase PPE kits for small businesses.
Each kit consists of contactless infrared thermometer, five face shields, 400 three-ply masks, 100 pairs of gloves, two-gallons of sanitizer and sanitary wipes.
The county is purchasing enough to supply 1,000 businesses on a first-come, first-served basis (apply at boostnassau.net, beginning Monday, June 1). The county is particularly targeting small businesses – minority and women-owned – that were “passed over” by the federal small-business relief program.
If the program is successful, it may be expanded.
New York State passed legislation to allocate Nassau County IDA up to $10,000 in grants, and $25,000 in loans for additional PPE.
“It’s an important tool to expand business receipts while mitigating risk.”
There is urgency, she added, to get back to business in a way that also mitigates the risk of spreading the coronavirus.
“We know PPE works. Any coming back requires PPE. Now we can begin reopening.”
Village of Farmingdale Mayor Ralph Ekstrand commented, “When we talked about a plan to reopen with social distancing, etc., Laura was ecstatic to work with village.”
The village engineer came up with a plan that lays out the six-foot separation. “Instead of having the restaurants do it, the village will do it, because we know what is safe.”
Curran estimated that a couple of dozen villages could take advantage of this program because their main street is a county road, but other villages could use the same “tool kit” on village or town road. “We will share the tool kit.”
This program complies with the restriction on restaurants for curbside and carry-out; in phase 3 of the state’s reopening plan, restaurants will be able to have indoor table service.
“This is an innovation, not a loophole, so community can work their way back,” Curran said.
What if “stupid” people abuse the rules? “Our residents have been doing a smart job,” Curran said. “We can handle our freedom.”
Nassau County is working with Suffolk – “One Long Island” – to hit the benchmarks to reopen under the state’s matrix. Both Nassau and Suffolk have suffered some of the highest rates of COVID-19 in the country, totaling 79,499 confirmed cases. New York City, just over the Nassau County Line so far has recorded 201,051 cases.
The rates of infection, though, have come down dramatically as a result of the lockdown and social distancing measures.
Today, there were 106 new COVID-19 cases in Nassau, for a total of 40,140, and three deaths, for a total of 2114. As of yesterday, there were 389 COVID-related hospitalizations and 121 ICU patients.
In addition to County Health Officials and Mayor Ekstrand, County Executive Laura Curran was joined by Richie Kessel, President of the Nassau County IDA; Eric Alexander, Director of Vision Long Island and Joseph Garcia, Farmingdale Chamber of Commerce President.
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