Yogi Berra conducting New York

As a Wounded City Recovers,
Real New York Miracle Is a Smile

By Ivor Davis

HAT do the following have in common? Portly former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger slides into home base at Yankee stadium and in the process gets his suit covered in dirt.

Barbara Walters sings abominably off key in an audition for a role in the hit musical 42nd Street.

Baseball legend Yogi Berra conducts the New York Symphony and Woody Allen cavorts merrily on the ice rink at Rockefeller Center.

The four personalities, along with Robert DeNiro, Billy Crystal, Kevin Bacon and Ben Stiller, will be seen in a series of amusing commercials which begin running with one big, common goal: To bring the missing tourists back to the Big Apple.

New York is suffering and
its citizens suffer right
along with it. The
Christmas lights are up,
the giant Rockefeller
Center tree is in place. But
Times Square is strangely

Every one worked for free as did the powerhouse ad agency BBDO who shot the six unique commercials as part of a Miracle of New York public service campaign launched by Manhattan's ubiquitous Mayor Rudoph Giuliani to bring back the throngs to New York following September ll.

Make dreams come true
EACH TV spot highlights a specific New York landmark or venue and demonstrates – with tongue a little in cheek – how a visit to New York can help make dreams come true.

But as I discovered, after several days in Manhattan, most New Yorkers are well aware that it's going to take more than a few clever ads to pull them out of the slough of despondency they've been in since 9/11.

Twelve hours after I landed in New York with a mission to chronicle Manhattan's remarkable recovery from September ll, American Airlines Flight 587 mysteriously dropped out of the skies after taking off from Kennedy Airport, killing all on board.

Henry Kissinger sliding into home base
on his pretty face.

Once again the city was paralyzed. The mood turned somber.  The comeback was on hold.

"Not again" was the cry heard as stunned residents crowded around TV sets all over the City.   Within minutes of the new crash. Grand Central Station was cordoned off and major highways and tunnels shut down.  The Empire State Building was evacuated, the United Nations and the rest of the city placed on full alert, and we hunkered down for more bad times.

Sigh of relief
WHEN the National Transportation Safety Board reported that the plane crash was believed to be caused by mechanical failure and not terrorism, the Big Apple heaved a collective sigh of relief.

But they certainly didn't relax. There's still an enormous police presence in the city and watchfulness in general that cannot be ignored. New York is suffering and its citizens suffer right along with it.

The Christmas lights are up, the giant Rockefeller Center tree is in place. But Times Square is strangely uncrowded.

Since Sept. 11, hotels and restaurants have lost $2.4 billion. Big spending foreign visitors from Europe and Japan are staying away. The international tourist trade is down 50percent.

"International tourism to
New York has dried up
and it will take longer
than we think to get back
to normal. People need to
conquer their fear of
flying for us to get back
on track.”

Jeffrey Stewart
Vice President
Loews Hotels, New York


Foreign tourists who traditionally keep the larger hotels and the biggest Broadway spectaculars like The Lion King, Forty Second Street, Kiss Me Kate, The Full Monty and Andrew Lloyd Webber's latest By Jeeves in business are noticeably absent. I heard only English spoken around me as I wandered around Manhattan.

Beds are cheap
THE only show in town you can't get tickets for until the summer is Mel Brooks outrageous musical, The Producers, which appeals only to the domestic market. And you can check into the Times Square Marriott Marquis, normally packed with theatergoers, for a miserly – by Big Apple standards – $125 a night.

Restaurants are closing and some Broadway shows are shuttering or asking their casts to take half pay to keep the curtain going up.  Hotel occupancy after 9/11 fell to under 30 percent.

Before the crash of Flight 587 it had picked up to around 75 percent, but the fate of many businesses in the city depends on the upcoming holiday season. If the domestic business dries up or fails to fill the international visitor gap, New York may take years to recover.

Everyone wants to help. At the end of every Broadway show after taking their applause, the stars pitch the cause and cast members stand ready to collect contributions to the relief fund as well as the traditional AIDS charity.

Billy Crystal and Robin Williams as

While executives at some of the major Manhattan hotels and restaurants say they are optimistic about the Miracle of New York becoming a reality, they are cautiously viewing the holiday weeks ahead.

Ray Bickson, general manager at The Mark, said bluntly, "We're hurting but we want to get the message out: Don't be afraid to travel. We'll give you a good time."

But Jeffrey Stewart, vice president at Loews Hotels in New York, admitted, "International tourism to New York has dried up and it will take longer than we think to get back to normal. People need to conquer their fear of flying for us to get back on track.”

Magic of the city
AT the Waldorf-Astoria, marketing director Mark Lauer says he hopes the new ad campaign "will recapture the magic of New York City."

He notes that his hotel was helped over the hump by the release in October of the romantic comedy Serendipity starring Kate Beckinsale and John Cusack – a film that prominently featured the Waldorf.

 I decided this was no time to check into a big splashy high-rise hotel. Instead I opted for a home away from home, The Fitzpatrick at Grand Central (Lexington Ave. and 44th St.).

This is a small Irish owned and run boutique hotel in the heart of Manhattan, eight floors high – anybody can run down eight floors if they have to – with a cozy Irish pub, a welcoming fireplace, and a house full of secure feeling guests, Americans, Brits and of course the Irish, in large numbers.

In recovery mode
NEW YORK is in full recovery mode and has launched an enticing  "Paint the Town Red White and Blue" package, which offers visitors hotel accommodations, dinner and breakfast plus two tickets to a Broadway show at deep discount. (Phone 1-800-NYC-VISIT.)

The Fitzpatrick is offering a rare weekend package of its own for Dec. l9th.  Two nights at the Grand Central or the larger Fitzpatrick Manhattan hotel (Lexington and 57th St) includes breakfast, dinner, and the big bonus: two tickets for the impossible to book The Producers. Price: a bargain $850.

The Muse hotel – just steps from Broadway and the discount TKTS booth where 50 percent off tickets to many shows go on sale on the afternoon of the performance – is also offering special packages that include show tickets along with cheaper hotel rooms.

In the wake of New York's trauma, the word is that the town is clean. In this post-Giuliani era, it's safe to walk the streets at night. And for me one of the biggest pluses of all:  You can get cabs easily, the fares are honestly tabulated. What's even more remarkable, the cabbies are friendly – they even smile at you and help with the luggage. Now that's the real New York miracle.

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