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Rebuilding and Revitalizing Lower Manhattan:
A Diverse Community of Homes, Offices and Small Businesses

By Sheldon Silver

"In honor of those who have suffered and died in Tuesday's terrorist attack, we not only have a responsibility to carry on, we must stand united as one state, one people, and move forward strongly and confidently into the future." -- Speaker Sheldon Silver, speaking to a special joint session of the New York State Legislature on September 13, 2001

The tragic events of September 11, 2001 affected all Americans and indeed millions of people all around the world. Among those most impacted by the terror attacks and their aftermath are those of us who live, work and own small businesses in Lower Manhattan.

I am a life-long resident of the Lower East Side and represent that community, including the financial district, civic center area, the World Trade Center site, Chinatown, and much of Battery Park City in the New York State Assembly.

Now, one year after that horrible day, we have made progress in our efforts to stabilize and revitalize our community, yet we still have much to do.

Wall Street and the New York Stock Exchange, along with many corporations, banks and other financial concerns, make Lower Manhattan one of the world's financial epicenters. But the area also includes homes, educational institutions, restaurants and retail establishments. Residents of the area have worked hard for many years to create a vibrant, diverse 24-hour-a-day community and have remained steadfastly dedicated to the area since 9/11.

In the days and weeks immediately following the terror attack, many residents had to leave their homes and thousands more worried about the effects of the contaminants contained in the massive plume of ash, smoke and debris that was released into the air by the collapse of the World Trade Center. After months of intensive efforts, city, state and federal officials ultimately acknowledged our concerns regarding the environment and public health, and the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) agreed to pay for and direct cleanup and testing of apartment interiors throughout Lower Manhattan. We are still working to ensure EPA programs continue to respond to residents' needs and include post-cleanup testing for dioxin, lead and mercury.

The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC), the state entity managing the redevelopment of the World Trade Center site, is overseeing a $220 million federally-funded program to support and revitalize residential communities in Lower Manhattan including Chinatown, Little Italy and other parts of the Lower East Side. The program provides one-time cash grants to families who lived in the area prior to 9/11, as well as financial incentives to new residents, and applications are available now.

Recently, the LMDC included in its preliminary plans the elimination of existing residential buildings adjacent to ground zero. Although these buildings sustained damage and will require extensive cleaning, their residents want and expect to return. I strongly believe that to demolish any existing and viable residential structures would symbolize a lack of support for the downtown residential community. After I expressed my concerns to the executive director of the LMDC, he indicated the plans would be changed and the buildings would be preserved.

In the downtown commercial community, retail shops, restaurants and other small businesses were particularly hard hit. With 120,000 jobs lost in Lower Manhattan since 9/11, delis, restaurants, clothing stores and newsstands experienced a precipitous drop in revenues that persisted even months after the attack. There was a significant reduction in tourist traffic to Chinatown, the South Street Seaport and other areas.

A range of federally-funded plans have been put in place to support downtown businesses and to keep jobs in the area, including over $100 million to date in initial funding for loans and grants to small businesses. While these programs have been successful, some have required fine-tuning to ensure that they are truly accessible to the kinds of small businesses that are located in Lower Manhattan.

Because I felt strongly that bolder steps were necessary to show the state's commitment to downtown's small businesses, I advanced the idea of sales-tax-free days as strategy for Lower Manhattan revitalization and made it a priority throughout this year's budget negotiations. The sales-tax-free days - three three-day periods, one each in June, July and August - were included in the final enacted budget. During these periods, purchases of goods and services up to $500 in all areas south of Houston Street are exempt from state sales tax. The city also lifted its sales taxes during the same periods.

The sales-tax-free days have bolstered downtown businesses, in part, I believe, because they symbolize the state and city commitment to revitalizing our community and the recognition that innovative measures are necessary to do so. These tangible actions are important symbols to all of us who live downtown and, indeed, to all New Yorkers.

Ultimately, these innovative initiatives are helping to revitalize both the local economy and the spirit of all who live and work here. I am convinced that through these actions and an unshakable faith in the future of our community, we will show people everywhere that a vibrant Lower Manhattan will continue to be a great place for New Yorkers to raise families and build thriving businesses and for tourists from around the world to visit and enjoy.

New York State Assembly
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