By Julie Shapiro and Nicole Bode
DOWNTOWN — The city teachers' union has agreed to store some of the Occupy Wall Street protesters' gear in anticipation of a potential showdown with police Friday morning, a UFT spokesman said.
The union began taking in excess storage items from protesters beginning over last weekend, and, stashing them at a vacant first floor storefront at its 52 Broadway building, a space that protesters have dubbed the "Occupy Wall Street Coat Check."
That changed on Thursday, when protesters began using the space just blocks from their encampment at Zuccotti Park to store their gear to prevent it from being confiscated by police, protesters said.
City officials announced Thursday that items such as tents, sleeping bags, and other personal belongings will not be allowed back into the park after the cleaning, and that protesters will only be allowed back onto the park property if they abide by the rules.
"We want to be mobile tomorrow," protester Josh Ehrenberg, 20, from Rochester, N.Y., told a group of young men with dreadlocks sitting on a tarp. "We don't know what to expect."
Ehrenberg raced around Zuccotti Park barefoot on Thursday, trash bags trailing from the pockets of his cutoff jeans, warning everyone he saw to gather their belongings and get ready.
People were allowed to take one bundle each of personal belongings from the encampment to the union's space.
In a notice to the protesters, Brookfield Properties, which owns Zuccotti Park, said its crews would begin cleaning the park at 7 a.m. Friday, starting with the western third near Church Street, then moving east.
"It will be necessary for the public to leave the portion of the park being cleaned while cleaning operations are underway, and to remove any possessions from the area being cleaned," Brookfield said in a notice to the protesters.
"Any possessions left in an area when it is ready to be cleaned will be considered to have been left there because they have been abandoned and they will be disposed of accordingly."
Each third of the park will take about four hours to clean, Brookfield said. The public will be allowed to return to the cleaned sections of the park, but only if they abide by the rules Brookfield and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly enumerated Thursday.
Occupy Wall Street announced counter-plans to mobilize at 6 a.m. Friday, linking arms around the perimeter of Zuccotti Park to prevent Brookfield's cleaning crews from entering.
The protesters said that no matter what happens, they would not abandon the park.
"We're going to stay," said Chisda Magid, 26, a Lower East Side resident who was gathering wilted cardboard signs to recycle them Thursday afternoon.
Elected officials have also come forward to show support for the protesters, and to urge them to avoid conflict with the police on Friday.
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, along with other officials, held a press conference at the site Thursday night to press the city to halt its plan for mandatory cleaning.
“We need a further discussion of protestors’ first amendment rights, the City’s legitimate concerns and above all a commitment to settle this matter in a safe and peaceful manner,” Stringer said in a statement. “There is no need to rush into hasty, precipitous action when it comes to the peace and safety of our community.”
Many protesters who were conducting their own cleaning of the park Thursday afternoon slammed the city and Brookfield Properties for implementing rules that are clearly designed to oust the protesters.
"It's such an obvious ploy," said Tarah Caiside, 25, an American citizen living in Bermuda who arrived in New York to take part in the protest five days ago. "It's disrespectful to our freedom of speech. It's not right. You can't say you support the people having a voice and then make it difficult at every turn."