Lights. Sky-soaring buildings. Hectic subway system. Global foods. International people. Millions of tourists. A beautiful storm of creativity, arts, and culture.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on the greatest city in the world, New York City, the gateway to America. According to a recent New York Times article, the unemployment rate in New York City is 16 percent, twice as high as the rest of the country. Personal income tax revenue is expected to drop by $2 billion this fiscal year. Only a third of hotel rooms are occupied, and apartment vacancies in Manhattan have hit a peak. So much of the allure of NYC has been the thriving tourist economy, largely driven by the arts and the global interests surrounding it.

Before the pandemic, in 2018, the city welcomed a record 65 milli­­­on tourists from around the world. Those visitors spent $44 billion – money that was crucial to keeping hotels, restaurants, bars, stores, theaters, and museums afloat (NY Times). Providing well over 300,000 jobs, we are seeing a massive outflow of New Yorkers from the city to the suburbs and across the country. The arts, particularly Broadway, have been a focal point and driver of the tourism economy. We need to bring it back in order to revive the greater New York City economy and restore the creative ecosystem which has made NYC the cultural capital of the world for generations.

This is the city of dreamers and time and again it’s the place where the greatest dream of all, the American dream, has been tested and has triumphed.” – Michael Bloomberg

The purpose of “Still New York” is to rebuild NYC and make it more sustainable and equitable for all. We will do this in two phases. Phase I will establish a beacon of hope through virtual and in-person arts festivals, events, and performances in order to create a community in support of our collective vision. All stakeholders will have input into this new vision. Phase II will involve a longer-term project through an adaptive reuse approach to failing hotels and commercial properties. Effectively converting them into intergenerational, co-living/co-working, themed complexes and campuses.

Phase 1

New Yorkers and those who love the Big Apple need some hope to motivate and inspire them. We will enlist the help of New York influencers and celebrities to help promote the message that we are all “Still NY.” We can begin by creating digital events, PR campaigns, and PSA’s to celebrate the importance and history of NYC. In partnership with NYC & Co., we will produce weekly events highlighting the variety within the arts industry and organizing the community of stakeholders. This would convey that the arts in NYC are still alive and well and the artists who live there have always been resilient.

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

– Emma Lazarus

Phase 2

After gaining a community presence, we would like to move toward a longer-term project that would involve the conversion of underutilized hotels and commercial properties in New York City, primarily in the theater district. One of the most common adaptive reuse options would be to utilize the existing hotel as multifamily conversions. Another would be to convert hotel rooms into offices or co-working spaces and common areas into industry incubators (galleries, labs, rehearsal spaces, sound stages, food courts, and performance areas).

We understand that there are many battles to fight regarding the revitalization of New York City.  However, the profound impact of the performing arts on NYC tourism and its identity inspires us to begin the journey with a “Broadway House” concept.  Similar to that of the Manhattan Plaza community, we envision a hotel conversion that would be predominantly for the professionals in the performing arts.  The Broadway House would invite intergenerational members as residents to provide affordable housing for the burgeoning performing artist (actors, singers, dancers, stage-hands, writers, directors, producers, photographers, costume designers etc.). It could help recapture the young creatives who have necessarily relocated from New York because of the pandemic. Using Chip Conley’s concept of \”Modern Elders\” it could integrate industry veterans into the community to serve as house fellows/artists in residence to give back to the very community that built their careers with seminars, speeches, workshops, etc. A living campus/laboratory.

Once we have proof of concept with Broadway House we can then create similarly themed campuses for other important vertical markets: Music House, Art House, Tech House, Lit House, etc. As the infrastructure of hotel buildings are similar but different from multi-family housing, we believe a co-living concept would be the most efficient path. This would better foster a community-like environment and a collaborative space. By constructing community kitchens and bathrooms, there is an efficient path of completion for a conversion of this nature. Additionally, we envision the first and second floors to include co-working spaces along with collaborative workspaces for the intergenerational community to thrive and establish a performing arts identity. Some financial structure options include limited profit housing, a coop, or a condo/hotel ownership, or a Mitchell-Lama housing structure. We believe NYC and NYS can use tools such as tax credits, IDA & EDC Bonds, zoning, and eminent domain to facilitate the project.

In recognition of climate change and in accordance with local law 97, we would adopt best practices for energy conservation and sustainability. This would entail platinum LEED certification (LEED 4.1) for Interior Design and Construction which includes things like lower entry points for both Daylight and Acoustic Performance credits and a greater focus on improving indoor air quality through more approachable air testing options. As we look toward the future, we believe that it is crucial to include sustainability and conservation efforts as part of the greater objective of rebuilding better and more equitably.

We believe that there is an existing community to support this vision. There are many entities and institutions that have a vested interest in the health of NYC’s economy and who may want to become co-sponsors of this pilot project. These include large corporations (Google, Tribeca Films, Apple, and Disney), media companies (Backstage, Variety, Crain’s, NYTimes, AT&T, Amazon, Netflix, and Warner Media), banks (Chase, Capital One, Morgan Stanley, American Express, Goldman-Sachs, KKR, and Citigroup), educational institutions (NYU, Fordham, The New School, FIT, CUNY and Columbia), REITS (Related Companies, Vornado, SL Green, Mack-Cali), unions (SEIU, IATSE, Actors Equity, SAG-AFTRA, SDC, AGVA, Local 802 and Teamsters), industry organizations (The Broadway League, LORT, CIC, and AGA) as well as government agencies (New 42nd Street, Mayor’s Office of Media & Entertainment, NYC Office of Nightlife, NYC & Company, NYSTIA, NYFA, Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA) and NYS Council on the Arts).

The idea would be to establish an advisory committee of well-known, reputable individuals, companies, influencers, and organizations that all have the common goal of reviving the tourism economy and protecting the very thing that makes this city the cultural capital of the world. “Still New York” is a time-sensitive priority that is necessary to bring New York City back to where it was and to become even more of an equitable and sustainable city.

New Yorkers are resilient and pugnacious. They will never back down without a fight…

I can guarantee that. Bet against NYC? Fuggedaboutit!

Yet, as only New Yorkers know, if you can get through the twilight, you’ll live through the night.”

– Dorothy Parker

For further information email: flobelfoundation@gmail.com