Abandoned and decrepit sheds that debuted in New York City for outdoor dining during the coronavirus pandemic are to be demolished — but most of the nearly 10,000 participating eateries are being allowed to keep theirs up, Mayor Eric Adams said Thursday.
Following long-standing complaints that some of the sheds have attracted vermin, garbage, homeless people, human waste and sexual activity, Adams wielded a sledgehammer and donned a hard hat in midtown Manhattan. There he began the demolition of what was once an aluminum roofed wooden shed hosting a now-shuttered eatery's outdoor service.
"I have a New York nose, and listen — someone has used this as a urinal, cause I can clearly smell it," Adams said on the corner of West 32nd Street and 5th Avenue. "And so people are tired of the trash, they’re tired of the rats, they’re tired of the abandoned shelters — abandoned outdoor dining sheds — and they just don't want the garbage around."
The demolition of that restaurant's shed — which has been abandoned — represents the 25th this week, said Ydanis Rodriguez, commissioner of the city Department of Transportation, one of the agencies involved in the sheds' regulation — and now demolition. Maiden Korea was the restaurant that once was there, said department spokesman Vincent Barone.
The city is considering how to standardize the outdoor dining program, called Open Restaurants, which was begun under former Mayor Bill de Blasio when indoor dining and other activities were banned because of the coronavirus pandemic. That was before vaccines or treatments when the death toll had been increasing exponentially, and indoor gathering was spreading the virus. The program is credited with saving businesses from going under.
On June 18, 2020, de Blasio signed an executive order allowing eateries to open outdoor spaces, beginning four days later, without the previous cumbersome and case-by-case process. He extended it year-round on Sept. 25 of that year.
The program has meant roughly 10,000 fewer of the city's 3 million parking spots. The space where demolished sheds once stood will likely become parking spaces once again.
Outdoor dining grew wildly popular, and Adams promised Thursday that the program is here to stay, although sheds that are decrepit or abandoned will be demolished.
He said he supports standardizing the sheds — perhaps allowing only four different types (“pick one,” Adams said), requiring union contractors to construct the sheds, as well as they the sheds are rat-proof.
Pending litigation by some neighborhood associations who oppose the sheds has “put a paralysis” on such plans, said Meera Joshi, Adams’ deputy for operations, but she and Adams said they expect to prevail in court.
In addition to the abandoned sheds, the city would seek to get rid of sheds run by what Joshi called “the egregious violators”: such as those that are unclean, show signs of vermin infestation and block fire-department access.
Before a shed is razed, the city will have repeatedly warned the eatery to comply and fix the violations, and then provided notice of the looming destruction, she said. Dozens of sheds fall into that category. She invited the public to report violators via the city’s 311 system.