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Gross Midtown Block to be Cleaned Up

By Jill Colvin | July 27, 2011 6:53am
Local business owners say the smelly, stagnant water plagues the block.
Local business owners say the smelly, stagnant water plagues the block.
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

MIDTOWN — The city is finally cleaning up what may be the grossest block in Midtown.

For years, residents and business owners have complained of putrid smells wafting from stagnant green water that pools in the potholes along either side of West 56th Street, from Fifth Avenue to Sixth Avenue.

“It’s really foul,” said Douglas Sinsel, 73, who’s lived on the block for 30 years and said he’s called 311 more times than he can remember to complain of the stench — a  powerful mix of garbage, rotten eggs and sour milk that rivals the now famous smelly puddle of West 33rd Street.

“It’s a constant cesspool,” Sinsel said. "It’s messier than any third-world country I’ve ever been in. It’s really a disgrace for the city

But the Department of Transportation put signs on the block this week promising filth-busting resurfacing work will begin soon.

A department spokeswoman said Tuesday that work was set to begin later that night on a plan to repave West 56th Street all the way from Eighth Avenue to Lexington Avenue. The work will continue through mid-August, when new asphalt is expected to be laid.

Business owners say the fixes can't come fast enough — since the stench drives away disgusted customers.

At Uncle Jack’s Steakhouse, manager Joseph Maliniak, 54, said staff members pour bleach into the street every morning, but customers still complain. He believes the poor conditions have had a “major impact” on the restaurant’s sales.

“We believe that people would rather not walk down the block, which hurts business,” he said, adding that staff also can’t open the restaurant's French doors to the sidewalk when the temperature rises above 70 degrees because the smell worsens with heat.

Rosemary Lee, 56, who owns Chom Chom, a Korean restaurant several doors down, said staff there also scrub their sidewalks every day with Clorox and soap, but that it hasn’t helped.

“It’s very bad. Customers complain,” said Lee, who said she believes the smell's scared off at least one potential customer interested in renting the restaurant’s second-floor event space.

“One lady emailed us Friday evening and complained about it… They didn’t book it,” she said, estimating the event would have brought in $4,000 to $5,000.

But Daly Reville, president of the West 54-55 Street Block Association, which has been organizing to improve the block, said there are other issues on the block that road work won't fix.

Part of the problem, she wrote to members in a recent newsletter, is that the blocks' residents are far outnumbered by businesses, some of whom  “have not been respectful of the street, leaving trash and failing to wash the sidewalk."

“The residents are frustrated,” said Reville, who has encouraged members to reach out to shop owners and file complaints with the Department of Sanitation if they leave garbage outside.

A Department of Sanitation spokesman said the agency had not received any substantiated complaints about the block. After having an inspector check out the location, he said, “It seems clean.”

City Councilman Daniel Garodnick, who's been working with the block association as well as a newly-formed Merchants’ Association to press the DOT to act, said he hopes the new project will finally eliminate the ponding and potholes that have plagued the stretch for years.

"DOT believes that this will address it," he said, adding that "it needs help."

Business owners and residents were hopeful the work would put an end to their suffering by summer's end.

"That would make a 100 percent difference," Uncle Jack's Maliniak said. “We can’t wait."