NYC demolishing dozens of outdoor dining sheds as city leaders fashion permanent program

The destruction of two dozen abandoned outdoor dining structures at the center of a yearslong debate over the longevity of the program is underway, New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced on Thursday.

Standing before a deserted shed in Manhattan, Adams emphasized his support for making outdoor dining a permanent fixture of city dining — an outcome officials have been working toward for months. But he said its longevity had to be safeguarded in a manner that is “safe, clean, and respectable to our neighbors and those who live in the communities.”

In addition to removing structures that belong to now-shuttered restaurants, Adams pledged to crack down on repeat violators of city outdoor dining regulations. Thirty-seven sheds are currently being investigated, according to his office.

“What I want to say loud and clear, as much as I can have a hand in it: Outdoor dining is here to stay and we want to make sure while it’s here, we get it right,” Adams said during the Thursday press conference.

Al fresco dining burst onto the city’s restaurant scene in June 2020 as a highly anticipated means of assisting a once-thriving industry that had been battered by lockdowns in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Roughly 13,000 restaurants participate in the city’s outdoor dining program.

The program has remained popular with scores of diners, but some residents have decried unsanitary conditions created by certain outdoor structures. Others have criticized the appearance of some of the sheds, including those no longer in use, while others have pointed to concerns over safety and vermin.

Critics of outdoor dining remain a small faction of residents, Adams said. A lawsuit seeking to end outdoor dining across the five boroughs — deeming its continuation as executive overreach by the mayor — is bogging down long-running efforts to preserve it, he added.

“Unfortunately, there’s a minority who don’t like outdoor dining at all … their lawsuit against the city is actually slowing the process of making the program permanent,” Adams said.

Rat sightings have been on the rise since last year, driven by the ubiquity of food waste partly caused by outdoor dining, the city health department told Gothamist this spring. Adams has been critical of the city’s rat problem since his days as Brooklyn borough president before the pandemic, but recent conditions have led to accusations that his administration hasn’t done enough to address the issue.

Still, outdoor dining has been credited with saving jobs and a vital aspect of city life — eating at restaurants — even amid an ongoing public health crisis. The mayor has repeatedly said the program has saved 100,000 jobs.

Andrew Rigie, executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, praised the city for demolishing the sheds and urged city leaders to fashion an equitable, permanent outdoor dining program.

“We look forward to working with the city to develop a permanent outdoor dining system that will be beautiful and sustainable for the future,” he said in a statement.

The city’s transportation and sanitation departments are leading enforcement efforts, with recent assistance from the parks department and police.

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