Times Square will go dark for one minute so businesses can shine light on their fight to get insurance money

Times Square is going dark for one minute on Wednesday night.

(CNN)Among New Yorkers and visitors alike, Times Square is known for its lights -- a frenetic frieze of big-screen advertisements that can make midnight look like noon.

But on Wednesday night the billboards at the center of a pandemic-riven New York City will go dark for one minute at 9 p.m., part of a coordinated effort by business groups to call attention to a nationwide effort to secure insurance coverage during the coronavirus.
"This is to symbolically show that the insurers are turning the lights out on businesses," John Houghtaling, general counsel for the Business Interruption Group (BIG), told CNN Wednesday.
That group -- a coalition of restauranteurs and other business owners -- along with the Times Square Alliance and the NYC Hospitality Alliance are hoping to call attention to businesses that have been denied insurance coverage for payroll and other losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
    Houghtaling and business leaders in the BIG coalition have also filed suit seeking payments under so-called business interruption insurance policies.
    "Insurance companies across the country have denied coverage," Houghtaling said. "[Claims] have been uniformly denied regardless of policy language -- they've just said they don't cover it."
    Following the one-minute blackout, local business leaders will be joined by Whoopi Goldberg and others in a video message calling on the federal government and insurance companies to support businesses.
    President Donald Trump has addressed the issue of business interruption insurance, including during a White House briefing in April.
    "You have people that have never asked for business interruption insurance (payouts) and they've been paying a lot of money for a lot of years for the privilege of having it," he said at the time. "And then when they finally need it, the insurance company says 'we're not going to give it.' We can't let that happen."

    Pandemics are 'pretty much uninsurable'

    But the insurance industry contends that business interruption policies serve a relatively narrow function.
    "The insurance industry's position is that a business interruption insurance policy is triggered by direct physical damage," Michael Barry, spokesperson for the industry-funded Insurance Information Institute, told CNN Wednesday.
    "The big picture is that global pandemics are pretty much uninsurable, because you have everyone incurring loss at the same time."
    Times Square going dark is a rare event, which organizers hope will lend drama to their plea. But Tim Tompkins, president of the Times Square Alliance, said the move isn't entirely without precedence.
    Amid high crime rates in the 1980s, a proposal to redevelop the city's theater district called for a rebranding of Times Square, including the construction of new highrise buildings without Times Square's signature signage. To protest the measure, Tompkins said, local leaders switched off the district's incandescent indicators.
    "It was a very different version of 'don't let the lights go out,'" he said.
    Those civic leaders lobbied to pass a law requiring an animated sign to be installed and illuminated on every building in Times Square, Tompkins said.
      Asked if Wednesday night's protest would run afoul of that zoning law, Tompkins laughed.
      "It's a good question," he said. "I think this will be tolerated for the greater good."