Volume 20, Number 42 | THE NEWSPAPER OF LOWER MANHATTAN | FEB. 29 - MARCH 6, 2008

Downtown Express photo by Jefferson Siegel

L.M.D.C. chairperson Avi Schick and Gov. Spitzer examine a map Friday showing streets where Downtown shops are eligible for rent subsidies to cover construction-related lost income. The governor found out the same day that he was implicated in a federal investigation into a prostitution ring.

In what turns out to be his last hurrah, Spitzer offers business help

By Julie Shapiro

Two weeks after a snowstorm cancelled the announcement of a grant program for small businesses, Downtown’s leading elected officials gathered for a second try.

The Lower Manhattan Development Corp. officially kicked off the Small Firm Assistance Program last Friday. The grants will spread $5 million over businesses affected by the construction that is ripping apart Lower Manhattan’s streets.

Five days before he resigned from office, Gov. Eliot Spitzer came Downtown to describe the visible rebuilding progress, starting at the World Trade Center and radiating outward.

“That’s all good news,” Spitzer said. “But we know the construction process also exacts a price and a cost on surrounding businesses…a price paid by small store owners.”

Spitzer smiled frequently and joked with other elected officials. That same day, Spitzer found out he was implicated a federal investigation into a high-end prostitution ring, where he had been a customer.

The L.M.D.C.’s grants, first reported by Downtown Express two weeks ago, will pay owners of small retail shops on blocks closed by construction up to $25,000 to cover their losses. Businesses on 13 streets currently qualify, and up to 36 streets will be eligible within the next few years, Spitzer said.

Spitzer urged businesses to apply quickly, before the funding runs out. As of Wednesday, the L.M.D.C. had not received any applications. The applications, which require documentation of lost income, were on the L.M.D.C. Web site, renewnyc.com, for two weeks prior to the official announcement, but the L.M.D.C. only recently started reaching out to businesses and distributing the lengthy applications. As of Monday, they had received more than 20 inquiries regarding the program, spokesperson Michael Murphy said.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver praised the plan but said more help is likely to be needed.

“Is this the total answer?” Silver said. “No, it is not.”

Spitzer implied that additional funding could be possible if businesses draw down the entire $5 million.

Silver sees the construction effects as good news because they mean construction is happening.
“This is exactly the kind of problem we hoped we’d be facing,” Silver said.

He later added that businesses took a chance on Downtown by deciding to stay here after 9/11, so the government should help bear the burden of the ensuing construction.

“We’re going to help you through these bad times, help you flourish,” Silver said. “Stay here and Downtown will thrive again.”

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, Deputy Mayor Robert Lieber, City Councilmember Alan Gerson, Downtown Alliance president Liz Berger and Community Board 1 chairperson Julie Menin also spoke.

Wearing a large Hillary Clinton button, Nadler turned to rhetoric he called “trite but true.”

“Communities live and die by small businesses,” Nadler said. Previous administrations used federal grants to support corporate giants, but Nadler applauded the L.M.D.C.’s new focus on mom-and-pop shops.

Menin called small businesses the backbone of the community. The funding sends “a message loud and clear: Lower Manhattan is destination to live, work, shop and dine,” Menin said.

As she spoke, a truck rumbled by, blaring its horn and partially drowning her words.

“Honking horns are good sign,” Spitzer said, smiling, since they mean construction is moving forward. “I hope to hear more.”

With reporting by Josh Rogers

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