New York COVID testing sites may soon expand into empty commercial real estate

Former NYSE CEO Dick Grasso said economic incentives had driven many to move from New York to Florida and Texas amid the coronavirus pandemic.

New York’s commercial real estate sector has suffered a massive blow during the coronavirus pandemic, but New York’s Real Estate Board plans to make good use of some of this empty space by placing quick-check points in vacant buildings.

“REBNY and our members are working closely with government officials to provide free space for rapid test centers in retail spaces and large commercial buildings,” said REBNY President James Whelan this week. “We are determined to ramp up these efforts significantly in the coming months, as improved access to rapid testing will be critical to our city’s economic recovery, the governor said.”

Brookfield Place Mall in Lower Manhattan (Photo by Spencer Platt / Getty Images)

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Governor Andrew Cuomo said in his State of the State Monday 2021 that rapid tests, along with vaccinations and other public health measures, will be essential for the economy to fully reopen in the coming months.

“Rapid tests not only save lives, they are key to our plan for economic reopening,” said Cuomo. “We will be opening a network of new rapid test sites across the state.”

New York’s free retail locations provide a good starting point for this network of quick test locations. According to the Fall 2020 ReBNY retail report, asking rents fell from 1% to 25% in all 17 retail corridors in Manhattan last year.

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According to a report from the Center for a Urban Future last month that closed more than 1,000 stores in the city in 2020, many vacancies are at retail chains.

“Overall, the number of chain stores in New York City decreased by 13.3 percent. 2.0 percent closed temporarily and 11.3 percent did not say whether the closings are permanent or temporary,” reported the Center for an Urban Future.

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The rising vacancy rates come as the coronavirus rages on in New York City and the rest of the state.

According to Johns Hopkins University, New York ran about 200,000 tests per day for the past month with a test positivity rate of 6.65%. The state has recorded 1,179,266 cases and 40,192 deaths since the pandemic began, including 165 deaths on Tuesday.