Designated zones proposed for New York Times Square street performers

Thu Sep 17, 2015 6:42pm EDT
 
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By Laila Kearney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City would require topless women in body paint, Elmo impersonators and other costumed characters who populate Times Square to work in designated zones under a new plan to manage a surge of street performers in the famed Manhattan crossroads.

Mayor Bill de Blasio voiced qualified support for the proposal, which was released on Thursday by a business group and is a response to the increasing criticism of the performers from officials.

De Blasio and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo have called the performers aggressive solicitors who threaten to drag Times Square back to the "bad old days" when the area was a tawdry magnet for prostitutes, drug dealers and panhandlers.

“Times Square should be a place of freedom of expression, freedom of movement and creativity, without being a free-for-all,” said Tim Tompkins, president of area business group Times Square Alliance, which wrote the report.

The performers, including topless women in body paint known as "denudas" and dozens of costumed mascots, have multiplied in recent years, posing for pictures with tourists, often in return for tips.

But alleged incidents of harassment of tourists and violence has led to stepped-up scrutiny from police and demands from some critics for a crackdown. In one case, a man dressed as Spider-Man was accused of punching a police officer after demanding a tip from a tourist last year.

The controversy intensified in recent weeks as the city's tabloids drew increasing attention to the denudas. De Blasio and Cuomo say the topless women will scare away families and reverse a transformation of Times Square in recent years into a tourist mecca.

The precise location for the "designated activity zones" envisioned under the proposal was not immediately clear, nor was their proposed size.   Continued...

 
Robert Burck known as the original 'Naked Cowboy' poses for a photo with a woman while wearing his bikini top, which he is wearing due to the recent concerns of topless street performers in Times Square, in the Manhattan borough of New York, August 21, 2015.  REUTERS/Carlo Allegri