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Murphy comes to Atlantic City to sign restaurant aid bill, get vaccinated

Murphy comes to Atlantic City to sign restaurant aid bill, get vaccinated

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ATLANTIC CITY — Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law a bill to provide $35 million in federal funding to restaurants, bars, breweries, brew pubs and wineries Friday, then drove a few blocks to get his first COVID-19 vaccine shot at the Atlantic City Convention Center.

Murphy and his wife, Tammy, both were given the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 shot, and will have to come back to Atlantic City in about 21 days to get the second, the governor said.

The funds to help food and drink businesses with fewer than 50 employees survive the pandemic will be administered by the state Economic Development Authority, Murphy said in a news conference at Bourré, a Cajun barbecue restaurant on New York Avenue in the city’s trendy Orange Loop district. The application period will be announced soon.

The new law doubles to $70 million direct aid to that industry through the EDA, the governor said. The first $35 million was allotted some months ago.

“We need a lot more,” Murphy said, adding the state is still awaiting guidance from the federal government on how it can spend the $6 billion it will get as its share of $1.9 trillion in American Rescue Plan funds.

“Atlantic City is a sleeping giant which has awoken,” said Bourré owner Pat Fasano, who also has several properties in Asbury Park.

Fasano gave Murphy a tour of the restaurant and bar, and an outdoor event space he recently finished next to the restaurant. The space is made up of a stage, shipping container spaces and open areas. It was originally supposed to hold a shipping container hotel.

Fasano has purchased about another block facing Bourré on which he will construct the hotel and an amphitheater for larger events, he said.

“It’s been an evolution,” Fasano said. “COVID taught us we need even more land.”

Murphy said he is “fighting the good fight” to get bars and restaurants fully open but could not speculate on whether that might happen in time for the summer.

Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, D-Atlantic, was a primary sponsor of the restaurant aid bill. He said he is optimistic that widespread vaccination will create the herd immunity needed to open at full capacity in June. But he stressed public health must come first.

Assemblyman John Armato, D-Atlantic, co-sponsored the bill, as did state Sens. Chris Brown, R-Atlantic, and Michael Testa, R-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic.

“Restaurants and bars are what tourism is all about,” said Mazzeo, a produce seller. Their health affects many related businesses.

His produce business lost 80% of its wholesale trade to restaurants and bars as a result of the pandemic, he said.

“I’m thankful I had the retail business,” Mazzeo said of his Northfield store.

Dana Lancellotti, president of the New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality Association, said restaurants are the state’s largest private sector employer, with 300,000 employees before the pandemic began last March.

“One third of restaurants have closed since COVID hit,” Lancellotti said. “We know many are not coming back — and 90,000 jobs have been lost. Food service workers are mostly women and minorities.”

Those who have managed to stay open are “continuing to navigate an unstable and uncertain future,” Lancellotti said.

She also made a plea for direct aid for hotels and motels and special event venues, for which she said there has yet to be any targeted relief.

Murphy said he would consider such aid once the state knows how it is allowed to spend American Rescue Plan funds.

Contact Michelle Brunetti Post:

609-272-7219

mpost@pressofac.com

Twitter @MichelleBPost

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Staff Writer

In my first job after college got paid to read the New York Times and summarize articles for an early online data base. First reporting job was with The Daily Record in Parsippany. I have also worked in nonprofits, and have been with The Press since 1990.

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