You no longer have to watch YouTube videos to see Times Square’s bad days


Yo, NYPD — get your butts out from under Times Square scaffolds, where too many cops idly congregate, and take a walk around the neighborhood.

A stroll on the east side of Seventh Avenue between West 49th and 50th streets, where Carolines on Broadway will soon shut its doors, offers a taste of the bad-old Times Square that’s fresher than grainy YouTube videos from the 1970s-early ’90s.

The Seventh Avenue sidewalk has the menacing atmosphere, if not yet the gunplay and muggings, of the Ed Koch and David Dinkins mayoral eras. Aggressive CD-sellers push the obsolescent music discs on tourists who stop to hear the dealers’ pitches at their own risk. (That is, if there actually is a CD inside the wrapper.) Marijuana peddlers offer joints to 12-year-olds.

The bleak “pedestrian plaza” in the street, home to drunks and drug addicts, sometimes evokes the early-20th-century skid-row Bowery. Pop-up junk sales suggest a Third World flea market. Can three-card-monte stands be far behind?

Sure, our men and women in blue do a great and courageous job when there’s actual violence. But — pay attention, Commissioner Keechant Sewell! — while the Times Square uniformed squad promises massive powers of retaliation, there’s little in the way of proactive policing. Like, “Are you licensed to sell this stuff? No? Put it away and move along then.”

Just as bad, the cops are disinclined to budge even one block beyond the “bowtie’s” 42nd-to-47th-street borders. The unpatrolled blocks are where the most visible sleaze is concentrated.

Carolines
Carolines at 750 Seventh Avenue is a legendary comedy club, but is soon closing its doors.
Cindy Ord

The imminent closure of Carolines at 750 Seventh Avenue, one of the Times Square area’s signature attractions for decades, which The Post first reported, could mark a tipping point in the area’s incremental decline from its wholesome, “Disney-fied” recent past. It’s a short slope from tacky to tawdry to scary, and the downward drift is underway.

Carolines’ Jan. 1 shutdown will create a mid-block dark hole in the neglected northern penumbra of the Times Square “bowtie.” Cops seem to have no interest in the sidewalk takeover by predatory CD hawkers despite repeated promises by mayors and police commissioners to crack down on them.

Caroline Hirsch, who owns the club, is closing mainly over a rent dispute with the landlord. But the abysmal conditions outside her front door could not have been an inducement to stay.

Hirsch years ago predicted that installing the street “plaza,” a pet project of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, would make it hard for customers to reach the club and hurt her business.

It turned out to be true, but only one of her problems — and the city’s.

Times Square
SL Green has plans to launch the New York City’s first full-scale casino.
Corbis via Getty Images

The commercial landlord SL Green hopes to launch the city’s first full-scale casino at 1515 Broadway, an office skyscraper it owns between West 43rd and 44th streets. It claims its partnership with Caesars Entertainment and Jay-Z’s Roc Nation, which will help pay for enhanced neighborhood security, can reverse Times Square’s downward trajectory.

Whether or not a casino, even a classy one such as SL Green promises, is the best instrument to rescue Times Square is worthy of honest debate. (The company is one of a half-dozen landlord/casino partnerships making their cases to the state for their own proposals, from Hudson Yards to Willets Point to Coney Island, each touting its supposed benefits to the neighborhood.) Maybe assertive policing that doesn’t wait for bullets to fly comes first.

But SL Green is onto something about Times Square’s slowly creeping decay. Some major office tenants, fed up with Elmos and worse, have moved away. Much of the once-fabulous, former Toys “R” Us space is now a tacky “gift” (i.e., T-shirts) emporium. The Crowne Plaza hotel stands dark, hostage to an impenetrable legal battle. Mama Sbarro’s pizza closed several years ago and shows no sign of being replaced.

And what will replace Carolines? In the short term, at least, a large, empty space that will only encourage more sinister doings on its doorstep — and maybe, at last, too much for the cops to ignore.



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