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New York City may turn vacant retail space into Covid testing sites, says real estate mogul

New York City may turn empty retail space into coronavirus testing sites, according to William Rudin, who runs his family’s multibillion dollar real estate empire.

In an interview on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” on Wednesday, the CEO of Rudin Management Company said that kind of increased transparency could help people feel more comfortable going out and help accelerate the city’s economy. Rudin said the Real Estate Board of New York is working on the program with the office of Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The retail real estate market in New York, like in many parts of the U.S., has suffered from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic as public-health restrictions meant to slow the spread of Covid-19 upended the economy. Business closures have piled up as operators struggled to make rent.

The goal is to repurpose vacant retail space, “which I think the city has a few of those,” into rapid testing sites, said Rudin, whose company’s New York City real estate portfolio includes 18 residential buildings and 16 commercial office buildings. “[A] person could show the restauranteur … ‘I just got tested 15 minutes ago and I’m good to go.’ This is important for venues,” he added.

Rudin’s comments come as vaccines to protect against Covid-19 are being rolled out across the country.

In New York, in particular, Cuomo announced Tuesday the state would be opening up vaccinations for everyone who is 65 years old and up and younger individuals who are immunocompromised. Cuomo also detailed plans for a larger rapid Covid testing site network throughout New York during his State of the State address earlier this week.

The deployment of vaccines is a hopeful sign for the economy, Rudin said, giving companies more visibility around when employees could return to the office. At Rudin Management Company, employees are already being tested every two weeks, he said.

Taken together, Rudin said the developments around the vaccine and better testing could accelerate New York City’s recovery. “I think you’re going to see a quicker return, hopefully, than is anticipated,” he said. There’s a pent-up demand for people to want to come back to work and people with their colleagues and have that collaboration.”

Vacant retail space in nearby New Jersey also is being repurposed to aid in the public health response. Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy told CNBC in a separate interview Wednesday a former Sears store in Morris County, which is about 30 miles outside New York City, is being used as a large vaccination site. Murphy said he was hopeful vaccine deployment would speed up after a slow start.

“We’re in a, ‘If you build it, they will come mode,’ and it feels like at last the supply is going to start to loosen up and we’re going to get more doses,” Murphy said later on “Squawk Box.”

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