|“Right now, Broadway is closed ‘at least until early 2021,’ and then there are supposed to be a series of ‘rolling dates’ by which it will reopen,” James says.
“But is that true? We simply don’t know. And what does that mean? Will it have to be only 25% capacity? Broadway shows can’t survive [on] that!” James emphasizes.
“Will performers, writers, producers, investors, lenders, stagehands, landlords, etc., wait a year?”
Broadway’s Schulman Theater… empty on a Friday evening
To say nothing of “the tens of thousands of jobs lost in these cultural centers” or “the millions of dollars of tourist-generated revenues lost by the closing of these centers.”
And then there’s something we hadn’t even considered: higher education that accounts for a near-city within the city…
“There are almost 600,000 college students spread out through NYC,” James says. “From Columbia to NYU to Baruch, Fordham, St. John’s, etc.
“Will they require remote learning? Will kids be on campus? It turns out: a little bit of both. Some colleges are waiting a semester to decide, some are half and half, some are optional.
“But we know this: There is uncertainty,” James says. “I don’t know of any college fully coming back right away.
“So in a semester or two it might be fine.” Right?
Columbia University campus
Courtesy: @BOMBAYANDBEYOND/VIA INSTAGRAM
“Not so fast,” says James. “Let’s say just 100,000 of those 600,000 don’t return to school and decide not to rent an apartment in New York City. That’s a lot of apartments that will go empty.
“That’s a lot of landlords who will not be able to pay their own bills. Many bought those student apartments as a way to make a living. So now it ripples back to the landlords, to the support staff, to the banks, to the professors, etc.
“In other words, we don’t know,” James says. “But it’s going to be a lot worse before it’s better.”
To James’ way of thinking, that applies to NYC as a whole…
“If you believe… NYC is resilient, I hope you’re right,” says James. “But this time is different.
“I lived three blocks from Ground Zero on 9/11,” James continues. “Downtown, where I lived, was destroyed, but it came roaring back within two years. Such sadness and hardship and then quickly that area became the most attractive area in New York.
“And in 2008/2009, there was much suffering during the Great Recession, again much hardship, but things came roaring back,” he says.
Here’s the difference: “NYC has never been locked down for five months,” says James. “Not in any pandemic, war, financial crisis, never.
“In the middle of the polio epidemic, when little kids (including my mother) were becoming paralyzed or dying… NYC didn’t go through this.
“This is not to say what should have been done or should not have been done. That part is over. Now we have to deal with what IS.”
And reality bites…
“There won’t be business opportunities for years,” James says. “Businesses move on. People move on. It will be cheaper for businesses to function more remotely…
“Everyone has spent the past five months adapting to a new lifestyle,” he says. “Everyone has choices now. You can live in the music capital of Nashville, you can live in the ‘next Silicon Valley’ of Austin. You can live in your hometown in the middle of wherever.
“And you can be just as productive, make the same salary, have higher quality of life with a cheaper cost to live.”
Speaking of which: “People will ask, ‘Wait a second, I was paying over 16% in state and city taxes and these other states and cities have little to no taxes? And I don’t have to deal with all the other headaches of NYC?’
“What reason will people have to go back to NYC?” That might be rhetorical…
“I love NYC,” James says. “When I first moved to NYC, it was a dream come true… So much personality, so many stories.
“I could play chess all day and night. I could go to comedy clubs. I could start any type of business. I could meet people. I had family, friends, opportunities.
“But the question now is: What happens next?
“And given the uncertainty (since there is no known answer), and given the fact that people, cities, economies loathe uncertainty, we simply don’t know the answer…
“And that’s a bad thing for New York City,” James concludes.
[Ed. note: Your editor today, for one, is pulling for NYC — one of the greatest cities in the world.
My father was born and raised in Washington Heights, and he moved his family back in the late ‘70s when the city was on the ropes. Still, I carry fond memories with me of ice skating in Central Park, exploring the American Museum of Natural History and checking books out at the New York Public Library.
But as bad as the near-bankrupt ‘70s were for the city, 2020 has been truly unprecedented… So here’s hoping — perhaps against hope — for an equally unprecedented turnaround.]
The 5 Min. Forecast
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