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Could Vacant Retail Aid COVID-19 Response?

January 20, 2021

The retail real estate market has been hard-hit by the pandemic as public health restrictions have forced many businesses to scale back operations or to close. But real estate execs believe vacant retail space could help cities ramp up their response to COVID-19 by offering more testing or vaccine sites.

Real estate executive William Rudin told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” that he wants to use vacant commercial space in New York City to provide more rapid testing sites. By increasing the number of sites, he believes more people could get tested for their jobs or prior to going out in public, giving them greater confidence to return to day-to-day life. That, in turn, will help boost the economy, he said.

“A person could show the restaurateur … ‘I just got tested 15 minutes ago and I’m good to go,’” Rudin told CNBC. “This is important for venues. … There’s a pent-up demand for people to want to come back to work and be with their colleagues and have that collaboration.”

Rudin’s company owns 18 residential buildings and 16 commercial buildings in New York City. At Rudin Management, employees are tested every two weeks, Rudin said.

Rudin said the Real Estate Board of New York is working on a program to use vacant retail sites for public health with the state's governor's office.

Other states are also looking at repurposing their vacant spaces. For example, a former Sears store in New Jersey is being used as a large vaccine site.