Times Square rezoning begins, relegating characters to sidelines

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TIMES SQUARE -- You may not notice it at first but Times Square got a subtle makeover overnight Thursday.

Teal-painted zones are now part of the layout.

It’s an effort by the city to maintain the peace between the public and those Times Square characters that some say have become a nuisance.

They’re called “designated activity zones” and they’ll soon be the home to performers, characters and anyone congregating in Times Square looking for tips.

“Any entertainers out here, whether their costumed characters, desnudas, ticket sellers, anyone looking to do something in exchange for possibly obtaining a tip they’re going to be required to stepping into the [zones],” said NYPD Commanding Officer Robert O’Hare.

Times Squares’ new zoning layout is part of legislation passed by the City Council earlier this year.

It includes three zones: a chill zone for visitors to take in the sights and sounds, the designated activity zone for performers and express lanes – for those who want to be in and out.

“The intention of the legislation was to always maintain the spontaneous and democratic spirit of Times Square,” explained Tim Tompkins of the Times Square Alliance.

“This is a place for commercial activity. This is a place of free speech but also allowing tourists to have a choice whether they’re being sort of approached or hassled.”

A feeling mothers like Jennifer Hobbs knows all to well. Hobbs and her daughter were recently harassed for a tip by a performer dressed in a Dora The Explorer costume.

“Its long over due, I think its time,” she said. “It’s been well beyond than what it should’ve been but I’m glad that it actually started.”

A series of incidents where costumed characters were being a little too aggressive - one where a tourist was sucker punched in the face for not tipping - fueled the call for regulation.

The city will spend all of next week educating the public on how the zones work. It will lead up to the big day June 21 which will be the first day the regulations go in to effect.