The topless women and costumed characters who aggressively panhandle in Times Square should be restricted to a designated zone within the famed square, according to a business group's report that gained support in the first meeting of the City Hall task force charged with solving the growing problem.
The Times Square Alliance released its report Thursday, hours before the first meeting of the task force commissioned by Mayor de Blasio after the painted ladies' presence became a tabloid sensation last month, with editorial pages warning that they foreshadow a return to Times Square's seedy past and demanding their removal.
The report called for "flow zones" that would let pedestrians move freely through the area, "civic zones" set aside for public events and "activity" or "solicitation zones" for the panhandlers dressed like Elmo or Batman and for the topless women wearing body paint and thongs and seeking money to pose for photographs.
The task force — which is City Council members, commissioners and civic leaders — did not reach a conclusion after its first meeting on Thursday. But in interviews after the meeting, several participants said the Alliance's plan had support and that while the topless ladies — known as "desnudas" — would be allowed remain in Times Square, the zones would make them easier to avoid.
"They'll be staying because they have the right to be here," said City Councilman Corey Johnson, who represents part of the famed area. "The city wants to move quickly. It doesn't want to let this linger."
The group also seemed to rally around preserving Times Square's pedestrian plazas, which have been widely hailed by urban planners as an innovation in city design. But the plazas, a signature achievement of de Blasio's predecessor Michael Bloomberg, have also become a popular congregating spot for the topless ladies and de Blasio had previously not dismissed the idea that they could be removed.
"There was a lot of support to keep the plazas," said City Councilman Dan Garodnick, who also represents the area. He indicated that construction on the plazas would continue in the coming weeks.
The task force is scheduled to meet again on Friday and soon deliver recommendations to de Blasio.