TIMES SQUARE — Construction in Times Square’s pedestrian plazas has wiped out a quarter of the new "zones" created to hem in costumed characters and topless "desnudas" — and the city currently has no plans to replace them, officials said.
Ongoing reconstruction work recently paved over two of the eight "designated activity zones" less than two months after the controversial performance areas were installed by the city. A Department of Transportation spokeswoman acknowledged Tuesday that the lost zones will not be replaced.
The news came as an unwelcome surprise for characters who claim the crowded boxes and lack of free movement were already hurting their tip-based business.
“That’s a problem,” Incredible Hulk impersonator Rene Diaz Canseco, 47, said after hearing the news Wednesday morning. "Instead of giving us a chance with eight zones, like we had before, it makes it a lot harder for us."
He and Princess Elsa impersonator Rosa Estrada, 45, often pose for photos with tourists in the zone next to Times Square’s TKTS booth, he said.
But when dancers and CD sellers descend each day in the afternoon and evening, they are forced to move to other zones, Estrada said
“They come over here, and the dancers take all the space — they don’t leave us space to work, and it makes it a lot harder for us,” she said in Spanish.
“We would like to see them give us a little more space to work,” Diez Canseco added.
But as of Wednesday, two of the zones — one located between West 44th and 45th streets, and the other between West 45th and 46th streets — had been cordoned and off partially covered by new tiles.
Construction barriers cut through the middle of a third zone between West 45th and West 46th streets, and teal tape had been placed on the ground to designate a makeshift zone adjacent to it, but pedestrians still walked through it unfazed.
The city is currently revamping Times Square’s pedestrian plazas as part of a multi-year project to “bring the Crossroads of the World up to the 21st century.” Work is expected to wrap up by December, according to the Times Square Alliance.
Jaime Araes, 45, who dresses as Grover, said he wasn't aware the city did not intend to replace the zones eliminated by the street work.
"Construction closed it? That's bad. It's a big problem — I need more zones," he said, agreeing with Diaz Canseco and Estrada that he finds himself competing with dancers and CD vendors.
Statue of Liberty impersonator George Duran, 24, however, said he was unfazed by the construction.
"They haven't touched this one, and I'm always here," he said of his preferred zone in Duffy Square. "[But] If they come in here and touch this one, yeah, it's gonna affect me."
Jose Escalona-Martinez, 42, who was visiting Times Square in street clothes on Tuesday instead of his usual Batman costume, maintained that the city's original zone plan was poorly conceived from the start.
“They make this, then they break it down,” he said of the construction. “They don’t know what they’re doing over here.”
Since the summer heat rendered his all-leather Batman costume too hot to wear, he has taken to dressing as Captain America instead — but refuses to stand in the designated zones.
Other costumed characters have also tried to get away with working outside the zones, despite the threat of being ticketed by police.
A Mickey Mouse impersonator, another Captain America impersonator, several Minnie Mouses and a Hello Kitty posed for photos on a sidewalk at the intersection of West 42nd Street and Seventh Avenue Tuesday morning.
Police seem to have been more lenient with the characters since construction started, noted the Mickey Mouse impersonator, who declined to give his name, but they hadn’t explicitly given them permission to work outside the zones.
On sunny days, dancers and topless “desnudas” leave little space in the boxes for other characters, he said.
“Some police say, ‘You gotta go back,'" he explained. "Others, they don’t say anything to us."
A DOT spokeswoman acknowledged Tuesday that the zones are a work in progress.
“In collaboration with our partners at NYPD, we will continue to monitor construction impacts on the DAZ locations and their capacity to determine if temporary DAZ locations are necessary to accommodate activity,” she said.
Times Square Alliance president Tim Tompkins said he was “sympathetic” to the costumed characters.
“There’s a certain amount of space that’s allocated to them, and proportionately, that should stay the same, but I also get you can’t ask DOT every day to move it around every day… so I think it’s a little bit of a balancing act,” he said.
The makeshift designated activity zone created with tape was a “good temporary solution,” he said.
“It is tougher for everybody… when everything’s changing every day with this construction” he said. “Hopefully it will be a little easier when, literally, the dust settles.”
Still, those like an Iron Man impersonator named Hector, 41, blamed the city for overcrowding in the zones.
“The police are good — I don’t like the regulations,” he said. “There’s no space. It doesn’t work.”
Update: The DOT "is reviewing the impact of construction on the designated activity zones and will make any necessary adjustments, including the addition of temporary designated activity zones, if needed," a DOT spokeswoman said Thursday.