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Nosh Pit

Eric Adams: I Will Protect NYC Outdoor Dining And Make Sure the Municipal Lemonade Is Palatable to All Palates

While “knocking down” an abandoned shed, Mayor Eric Adams made clear that his administration won’t be cowed by a small group of dissenting voices.

Mayor Eric Adams, wearing a bright yellow DOT vest and DOT helmet and holding a sledgehammer, laughs with city officials before knocking down a derelict outdoor dining structure.

Mayor Eric Adams announces a new, multiagency enforcement initiative focused on spotlighting open and active outdoor dining sheds in the city’s Open Restaurants program and removing abandoned sheds that were formerly part of restaurants that have now shut down. West 32nd Street and Fifth Avenue, Manhattan. (Ed Reed / Mayoral Photography Office)

In Midtown Manhattan on Thursday morning, Mayor Eric Adams insisted that outdoor dining in New York City's streets wasn't going anywhere.

"I want to say it loud and clear, as much as I can have a hand in it, outdoor dining is here to stay," Adams said in front of a group of reporters who had been assembled on a corner in Koreatown, in front of a huge outdoor dining shed that was slated for demolition.

The shed had been used for a pop-up Korean restaurant on a vacant lot, which had since closed. Later, Adams grabbed a sledgehammer and pretended to knock it down—a symbol, he said, of "getting the program right." 

Right now, the Open Restaurants program in New York City is stuck in limbo. A lawsuit by a small group of city residents, the Coalition United for Equitable Urban Policy, or CUEUP, has delayed rule-making on a permanent program. A second lawsuit from the same group now aims to end the current emergency program entirely. 

"There's a minority who don't like outdoor dining at all, we're clear on that," the mayor said. "Their lawsuit is actually slowing the process of making the program permanent."

In a statement to Hell Gate, CUEUP called the program to remove some sheds a "small step," but insisted that the Open Restaurants program has become "a blight on our city, and it needs to end."

At the same time, the dining sheds—or outdoor dining structures, or streeteries, or whatever you want to call them—are hanging on through their third summer, and barreling toward another winter. What were initially slapdash structures meant to meet an immediate need for small business owners, are now a much more permanent part of the city’s landscape, for a much more permanent pandemic than anyone had hoped. ("We still have a COVID issue," Adams said at the presser, almost as an afterthought. "We're doing a great job so you don't acknowledge it, that it still exists.")

To counter the charges that the structures were all rat-infested urine slabs, Adams was there to tout a multi-agency initiative to demolish sheds that had been in disuse, either because businesses had closed or because they were no longer maintaining them, and had racked up multiple violations of City code. This was the twenty-fifth shed removed in recent weeks, with 37 other sheds already identified for possible removal. The City said it would store the sheds for 90 days if the owners wanted to retrieve them, and then it would either auction them off or throw away the parts. "We were handed lemons during the COVID crisis, turned it into lemonade and we're gonna tweak the recipe to make sure that it's a lemonade palatable to all of our palates, so we can all enjoy the outdoor dining," Adams explained, in his signature way. 

Adams's support for the streeteries is not politically controversial—a recent poll from the Regional Planning Association showed that 84 percent of New Yorkers said they were in favor of outdoor dining. The Adams administration credits the program with saving over 100,000 jobs during the pandemic.

So in the future, what kind of sheds would Adams like to see become permanent? And what will become of the empty spaces where demolished sheds once stood? 

The answer to the second question seems to be…parking. In the East Village, for example, we watched as an abandoned shed was replaced by two cars within a single hour of removal. Adams said he was "open" to hearing suggestions but suggested that it was "the job of the city council" to determine the fate of open space. Bronx Councilmember Marjorie Velazquez, who chairs the consumer and worker protection committee, is tasked with coming up with a framework for the permanent program.

Transportation Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez, who was on hand at the shed removal, also deflected our question about doing something other than parking with empty street space: "It’s definitely a priority to reimagine the use of public space,” he said.

As for what will become permanent, the mayor showed enthusiasm for places with heaters and roofs—something left out of the initial permanent plan workshopped by the previous Mayor Bill de Blasio. 

"During the wintertime I liked the coverage…I thought the heaters were great, so I am completely open," Adams said. "We want to make sure that it is rat-proof, that it is clean, that it's safe…I like the idea of, 'Here are four different types, pick one.'"

Adams took a few off-topic questions then made a speedy getaway from shouting reporters, one of whom was trying to get him to answer a question about the education cuts his administration and the council passed in the budget.

With city streets still in dire need of safety improvements, and some Open Streets becoming permanent, there's still time to meaningfully reimagine what the streets could look like. But right now, go out and enjoy our lovely, rickety sheds while they're still here. They’ve seen a lot. 

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