The year 2020 wasted no time hitting hard. By March, COVID-19 was leaving its mark. Businesses worldwide were ordered to close or allowed to remain open, divided into “essential” and “nonessential” labels. Meanwhile, people everywhere were told to stay at home as much as possible and remain at least 6 feet from anyone who was not an immediate household member.
Cities had to adapt to the sudden changes, maintaining business as usual, even while offices were closed. As different states now try to decide how close to normal they can return to, a new sort of “normal” has settled in, with mayors and other city officials shouldering much of the responsibility of keeping their residents safe and their cities’ economies whole.
When 2020 dawned in Manchester, things were looking bright economically, with construction beginning on two new hotels, as well as the first Primary activity in the nation.
“The city was just in a very good place, very dynamic and alive,” Mayor Joyce Craig said.
Then, COVID-19 hit.
Everything halted, yet the city was busier than ever.
By March 2, Manchester’s emergency operation center was open. Just a few weeks later, March 14, public schools closed, the first of the city’s shutdowns.
Soon, a COVID-19 hotline was operating, and eventually, the city was able to establish twice-weekly COVID-19 testing. This paved the way for drive-up flu shots at the onset of cold and flu season.
Manchester’s focus now is getting back to where it was a year ago, while keeping its residents safe. Schools opened back up in September, using a hybrid in-person/online model for preschool and kindergarten, with all other students learning remotely.
“We’ve made significant modifications to our school buildings to make sure they are safe,” Craig said. “The school board took measures to implement procedures to maintain a minimum of 6 feet.”
Manchester is one of two cities in New Hampshire to have its own health department, Craig said. Data has been key to keeping track not only on numbers of cases but also on where each originated — known as contact tracing.
“We’re really fortunate to have a strong health department leading through this pandemic,” Craig said.
The department has also kept the word out about hand washing, social distancing, mask wearing and other safety procedures.
Through it all, Craig remains optimistic and looks forward to 2021 bringing some good to the community and its economy. The hotels that halted construction in March are now operational. Small businesses are working to recoup what they lost during the COVID-19 shutdowns.
“Small businesses are the backbone of our community, so we’re doing everything we can to help them,” Craig said.
The city has worked closely with local restaurants to help them expand their outdoor seating options, allocating parking spaces that those restaurants or the city have owned, ensuring enough space for these efforts.
Financial packages have been established. A small business resiliency grant offers up to $5,000 for eligible small businesses to use for things like outdoor seating, Plexiglas dividers and anything else that will help with COVID-19 safety.
A low-interest loan program offers up to $25,000 for small businesses throughout the city that have seen a decrease in revenue due to COVID-19 shutdowns.
“Again, we want to do everything we can to help them through this,” Craig said.
Providing funding for local small businesses is one thing, Craig said, and another is encouraging the community to continue shopping and making purchases there. As an example, the day before Halloween, Manchester held a downtown event to encourage residents to mask up, visit and shop there.
“It’s so important, and we’re going to continue to do things like that,” Craig said.
A topic of importance going into 2021 is affordable housing.
“The state of New Hampshire has ended the eviction moratorium and affordable housing is an issue across New Hampshire and the county,” Craig said. “So, we are working on increasing affordable housing opportunities in Manchester.”
The city has established a task force to see to this.
Greenville is another of the thousands of cities continuing to adapt to the coronavirus-affected world. At the dawn of 2020, no one could have dreamed of online meetings and off-site workdays, with government offices closed and government employees conducting business as usual from home.
“We are adjusting to a remote work environment and are modifying our business processes,” Greenville Mayor Knox White said. “Despite challenges, we have continued to operate and provide essential services.”
In March, Greenville, like so many cities worldwide, began closing in preparation for the unknown. Events were cancelled and meetings moved to an online platform. Access to city buildings was limited, with only essential employees working in person. Community centers, parks and the zoo all closed.
As temporary shutdowns and stay-at-home mandates became the norm nationwide, Greenville knew things would become increasingly difficult for its residents and businesses, both financially and psychologically.
The city launched a website where residents could learn up-to-date information and access resources. Area health systems and health agencies began giving regular media briefings.
To ease some of the financial burdens on residents and business owners, the city deferred late fee penalties on certain services, temporarily suspended public transit fares and refunded approximately $50,000 in parking passes, special event reservations, park reservations and zoo memberships that had been issued prior to the pandemic.
The city also distributed 200,000 free masks to area businesses. More than 250 Small Business Boost grants were issued at $1,000 apiece.
In April, the city of Greenville, Greenville County, the Greenville Chamber of Commerce and the Greenville Area Development Corporation teamed up to form the Business Recovery Task Force.
“As restaurants, retailers, service businesses and manufacturers began to resume modified operations, the Business Recovery Task Force launched the Greater Greenville Pledge, a campaign designed to encourage local businesses to reopen responsibly and instill customer confidence,” White said.
Available in both English and Spanish, the Greater Greenville Pledge webpage features links to a variety of reopening guidelines and a Business Recovery Task Force report. Business owners can also find success stories and a map of pledged businesses.
For 2021, White looks forward to construction of the 60-acre Unity Park, which he calls, “One of Greenville’s most transformational public-private partnerships.”
Unity Park is a regional project covering three Greenville neighborhoods: Southernside, West Greenville and Hampton-Pinckney. The city and its consultants worked closely with residents of these neighborhoods to develop a master plan for the park, which will include playgrounds, open green space, a pedestrian bridge over the Reedy River and a place for gatherings.
Nearby business owners were taken into consideration, particularly those located in The Commons, a 40,000-square-foot development of former abandoned warehouse space.
“The city and its contractor worked closely with the owners to mitigate the impact of construction on the businesses, including building a temporary parking lot for the development,” White said.
The first phase of the park will cost around $40 million. Funding comes from a variety of sources, including $26 million in taxes generated through the tourism industry. In addition, $5 million stormwater funds will go into restoring the Reedy River, which flows through the park. The remainder of the first phase will be funded through private donations and grants.
Affordable housing will be another buzzword for Greenville in 2021. The city has donated 9 acres of land in the Southernside neighborhood, valued at more than $8 million, to the Greenville Housing Fund for the construction of affordable workforce housing.
“What makes Unity Park unique is the city’s commitment to inclusivity and equitable development,” White said.
As 2020 comes to a close, cities like Manchester and Greenville continue to recover while looking forward to great things