MANHATTAN CIVIL COURT — A Manhattan judge has extended a restraining order barring the city from arresting aggressive hawkers for an Empire State Building ride following a round of verbal sparring in court Monday between the city and the company that employs the vendors.
Manhattan Civil Court Judge Donna Mills said she would make a decision "very soon" in the battle between the Empire State Building Skyride and the city, who are embroiled in a legal battle over the city's crackdown on the company's employees.
Mills had issued a temporary restraining order on June 11 prohibiting the city from ticketing the company and their employees until she renders a final decision on which side is in the right.
New York Skyline, the proprietor of the 17-year-old Skyride, a virtual tour of the city that runs out of the landmark midtown building, has filed a lawsuit against the city and the police department, claiming an onslaught of violations and summonses was improper.
A lawyer for Skyline, Randy Mastro, argued Monday that the city launched a ticketing assault on Skyride because it sides with the Empire State Building's landlord, which is seeking to evict the virtual tour operator.
Skyride has been leasing an 18,000 square foot space in the Empire State Building since 1993. Their lease is set to expire in five years.
Skyline officials claim the Malkin family, the building's current landlord, has been trying to have them evicted for years — and say Empire State Building officials pushed for the arrests and prosecution of employees to give them leverage in their eviction process.
"Suddenly the city, for the first time ever, is issuing a barrage of tickets, notices of violations and summonses," said Mastro, who cited that the company received 14 summons and six of its employees have been arrested since the blitz began in April.
The agents can usually be seen in the area of 34th Street and Fifth Avenue where they approach tourists and other passersby to try to sell them tickets to the ride.
The attack on the company, Mastro said, is about to cost the owners of Skyline their business, unless the city is stopped.
"This is literally a case about saving a business. It has literally been put in jeopardy by the city's overreaching," said Mastro, who was also formerly a deputy mayor, and claimed the city has always been supportive of the lucrative tourist attraction.
Lawyers for the city argued that the decision to begin enforcing the law where the Skyride agents are concentrated came after careful review by city lawyers following a host of complaints from area residents.
"It would almost be a dereliction of our duty if we got complaints and just ignored them and didn't investigate," said Melanie Sadok, an administrative lawyer for the city.
Sadok said the timing of the Skyride ticketing effort is irrelevant, because their aggressive sales tactics pose a threat to the safety of pedestrians and quality of life for residents.
She defended the city's initiative to ticket the Skyride ticket sellers as illegal vendors and noted the companies were warned in advance of the new initiative.
"They got lucky — either the city wasn't aware of it or the city had some serious budget issue or there weren't complaints, so there wasn't a problem," she said. "Now the city has realized there's a problem."