New York’s ubiquitous scaffolding structures — officially known as sidewalk sheds — cast a giant shadow over the city’s streets, where some sheds have been obscuring businesses (and photo opportunities) for decades.

A short walk on 9th Avenue displays a patchwork quilt of sheds, where large-scale structures like the one obscuring the Film Center Building at 630 9th Avenue (which went up a year ago this week) are quickly approaching their permit expirations. In an effort to speed up removal, Borough President Mark Levine has announced an initiative to expedite repairs and enforce long-expired sheds. Will the program bring much-needed sunlight back to Hell’s Kitchen’s sidewalks and long-suffering storefronts? 

Film Center Scaffolding Shed 9th Avenue
The Film Center at 630 9th Avenue between W44th and W45th Street, where sidewalk sheds have been up for over a year. Photo: Catie Savage

Borough President Levine presented his office’s new initiative, “Shed the Shed” on Monday, highlighting the urgency in reducing the city’s thousands of long-lingering sheds. “It’s a good idea that’s totally run amok,” said Levine. “There are over 4,000 sheds in Manhattan alone — if you line them up, it would go from here to Montreal.”

He added, “On average, they’re out there for eight months each, but over 200 have been there for five years, and this is a blight on neighborhoods. The bottom line is the work to fix the façades has to be done more quickly. Our plan calls for carrots and sticks to speed that up by helping buildings that need some financial assistance by adding fines to those who are not doing the right thing.” 

The plan tackles shed removal through a five-point strategy:

  • Providing low-interest loans to buildings so that they can expedite and complete repairs, as well as creating an accelerator program to guide property owners and co-op boards toward best repair, financing, engineering and compliance practices 
  • Reduce delays in permitting requirements by working with the Landmarks Preservation Commission and the Department of Buildings to smooth out the procedure
  • Enforce penalties against non-compliant buildings by hiring a task force to identify them, increase fines against those who don’t complete work in a timely manner, hire emergency city workers to complete work on unsafe buildings and create rent abatement programs for tenants suffering beneath longstanding sidewalk sheds 
  • Utilize drones to inspect façade work, and reform sidewalk shed design regulations to include more customized options to community needs, as well as enhanced lighting 
  • Increase inspection and completion cycles from five to seven years to encourage full completion of façade work within one cycle 
A sidewalk shed blankets a smoke shop in Hell’s Kitchen. Photo: Catie Savage

BP Levine said: “Everything we’re calling for is to prioritize safety for both pedestrians and workers. We’re not talking about removing scaffolding if a building still has dangerous conditions on the façade. We’re talking about fixing the façade more quickly just so New Yorkers understand what’s usually happening.”

He added: “If you see scaffolding out there for years on end, it’s that the building doesn’t want to, or is unable to pay for repairs to the façade, and it’s just cheaper and easier for them to leave the scaffolding up. We want those repairs made quickly. That’s a win for safety, but it also gets the scaffolding down — which is what we’re trying to achieve in this report.” 

Back in Hell’s Kitchen, myriad buildings would be affected by an expedited sidewalk shed removal process — from the neighborhood’s newest smoke shops to long-standing landmarks like the residential Ritz Plaza, where a shed has been up for 839 days. Last March after the Film Center was outfitted with a prominent Urban Umbrella, W42ST surveyed readers to guess how long they believed the shed would remain in place. The results were reflective of many New Yorkers’ skeptical feelings toward the speed of city construction. “2034,” said Max Von Essen at the time, while Christy Miller added, “I’ll say the 12th of Neveruary”.  Reader John Sorrentino remarked: “Oh, I’d venture to guess it’ll come down soon. Like 2029.”

Schmackary's scaffolding Film Center
The Film Center’s sidewalk shed being constructed around Schmackary’s in March 2022. Photo: Phil O’Brien

While the $8 billion sidewalk shed industry may seem like a New York fixture since the city was known as New Amsterdam, the structures are a semi-recent phenomenon. The death of a Barnard College Student on May 16, 1979 — killed by a piece of falling terra cotta from the 8th floor of a building on W115th St — led then-mayor Ed Koch to implement the first iteration of the city’s Façade Inspection & Safety Program (FISP), known as Local Law 10. After several incidents in 1997 — where debris fell from both Midtown’s American Airlines Theatre (then known as the Selwyn Theatre) and the Church of Scientology Building on W46th Street — the regulations were updated to include additional balcony and railing and inspections and the law was revised to its current form, Local Law 11

While Local Law 11 requires sidewalk sheds to remain in place for pedestrian safety as buildings conduct façade repairs and general construction, in recent years some building owners have opted to delay or abandon repairs in favor of leaving up the cheaper to maintain sidewalk sheds, leaving helpless business owners to languish under large-scale structures that obscure their signage and create safety issues for pedestrians passing through at night. 

A screenshot of the city’s open permit tracker, which shows that 630 9th Avenue’s first permit will expire in less than a week. Photo courtesy of NYC.GOV

According to the city’s active permit tracker, there are currently 9,055 active sidewalk shed permits across the five boroughs — down from 2020’s peak of 11,370 permits, a DOB spokesperson told W42ST. Though there are only eight fewer permits in March 2023 than in March 2022, it’s worth noting that new sidewalk sheds are constructed daily. 

To meaningfully reduce the city’s sheds long-term, City Council Member Keith Powers — who appeared with Borough President Levine on NY1 to promote “Shed the Shed” — argued that buy-in from city agencies like the DOB and LPC is a must. “We’re going to go and introduce legislation to make sure that the laws change in the way that we’re talking about in this report, but the critical thing is we get our city agencies to start enforcing it, to start resourcing themselves in that particular way, and to start tackling bureaucracies that exist,” he said. “The Landmarks Preservation Commission has jurisdiction over some buildings. The Department of Buildings has jurisdiction over all those buildings. We need them to start working together, and what they really need is a political push.” 

A spokesperson for the DOB said: “As Mayor Adams said in his State of the City address in January, this administration is laser-focused on reclaiming valuable public space for New Yorkers, strengthening oversight of longstanding sidewalk sheds, and improving shed design requirements to keep our city’s streetscapes vibrant. We appreciate the borough president’s recommendations and look forward to reviewing his specific proposals.”

The DOB added that since late 2019, it has doubled the size of its façade inspection unit to assist with the enforcement of safety regulations, created a Long-Standing Shed inspection program to regularly check sheds that have existed for more than five years and updated rules to strengthen noncompliance penalties and work through sidewalk shed oversights. 

The sidewalk shed at 335 W39th Street was finally removed. It had been in place since 2009. Photo: Phil O’Brien

The agency has also closely tracked over 40 buildings across the city to bring criminal and civil nuisance abatement cases against the longest standing sheds. To date, nearly a dozen of the 40  long-standing sheds had been removed after the owners were successfully compelled to remediate the unsafe conditions at their buildings — including two buildings in Hell’s Kitchen, at 748 10th Avenue, where a 2003 shed was removed in 2020, and at 335 W39th Street, where a 2009 shed W42ST identified last March was removed in 2022. 

But there’s additional light at the end of the tunnel. After four-and-a-half years of a nearly block-long sidewalk shed at W44th Street between 8th and 9th Avenue — the site of the Record Plant, once frequented by the likes of John Lennon and Yoko Ono and now known as the home of Birdland Jazz Club and restaurant Peachy Keen  — the structure has been cleared, freeing the popular businesses to see the West Side sunshine and additional customers. And Hell’s Kitchen residents should keep a watchful eye on the Film Center…the shed’s permit expires next Tuesday. 

John Lennon & Yoko Ono W44th Street
The scaffolding is finally down after four-and-a-half years on W44th Street (by Birdand and Peachy Keen). Now, John Lennon and Yoko Ono fans can recreate the last pic of the couple outside the Record Plant. Photos: Bob Gruen + Catie Savage

Join the Conversation


  1. I have lived in Hells Kitchen for 15 years, the structure on the corner of 57th and 9th has had a shed the whole time! Graffiti covers the walls and homeless make it their home…can’t anything be done?

    1. That building at 57th & 9th, the Windermere, has a sad history that led to its current state. The building was declared unsafe to occupy in 2007. I didn’t live in the neighborhood at the time, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s when the scaffolding went up, or earlier.

      The current owners, who bought the building after it was neglected for decades, had a zoning variance approved by the city council in late 2021. The plan seems to be to have a rooftop restaurant, ground floor retail with large windows, office space, affordable units to replace the ones that were lost when the building became uninhabitable, and possibly a hotel (a hotel had long been in the plans, but that part may have been cut from what I’ve read).

      They’ve restored the exterior of the upper levels (but not the ground floor, yet), and I do see people working inside it periodically, so hopefully within a few years the restoration and renovation will be complete, and the scaffolding will finally come down.

  2. hello there must be housing or an s r o for those on SSI and public assistance
    so they can also live too, which will cut down on the homeless population, most homeless are on SSI or public assistance,

  3. Once these scaffoldings go up, the business people that put them up don’t want to take them down because having them up becomes their money!

  4. New York City has lost it’s glamour mostly it looks scruffy with tatty outdoor dining sheds and scaffolding everywhere, if I would visit Manhattan for the first time today I would not be impressed.

    1. I agree! This is the city is “
      Scaffold City” and it is out or control. Looks awful! West 44th between 8th and Broadway is completely covered! You cannot even see Sardis , Schubert Alley, Carmines’s and the Beautiful Theaters!
      Very sad.

  5. The sheds are a scam and the politicians are fully aware and have been for decades. It’s a money making operation, mobbed up. The Pols ain’t innocent but are complicit by practicing benign neglect, nothing to see here, oh it is a problem…and they carry on. The scaffolding preventing our young people from playing basketball because of a greedy and lazy co-op building on the park is evidence of lazy public officials. Time to wake up, citizens of HK and realize all that glitters isn’t gold.

    Sad to see because at one time we had a red headed pit bull protecting us and she let nothing get by unchallenged. Now we have illegal pot shops that are just now being looked at, we’ve still got drug sales and open air drug taking all over the place (we’ve actually gotten used to it which is even worse) the shoplifting has led us to locked up tooth brushes.

    Well, onward and I wait to see how they will pose to stop the steal with scaffolding. I hope to be pleasantly surprised:)

    1. Spot on, Marisa-I so miss CQ. Rats everywhere, but our city council rep buries his head in the sand when it comes to forcing the bars and restaurants to take their wooden shanty houses down. Take a look at Ninth Ave. between 46th/47th Streets….the rats are scurrying back and forth between these “roadside cafes”. who in their right mind would actually eat out there? Instead, let’s force small residential buildings to having their supers working until 8 pm putting trash out for collection.

      1. “buries his head in the sand”? I think that’s an unfair characterization. Erik Bottcher has been very open about the challenges of balancing protecting quality of life with supporting small businesses. He has said that the laissez-faire lack of enforcement against dining sheds had undermined public trust in the program. And he is actively working within the city council to update the outdoor dining system.

  6. Ironic that today’s link within eletter about shooting outside Park West HS opens to NY Post photo of exterior with a big old shed. Actually both local HS been nicely quiet compared to old days of daily fights within & between same.
    Glad to see return soon of our Brit Boy.

    1. Yes! I lived across the street from Park West HS for years in the 1990s and there was constant fighting. People seem to forget how bad things were and act like NYC used to be a glittering fairy tale. Overall Hell’s Kitchen is much much safer than it used to be.

  7. I am sorry not to see here any mention of how these “forever” scaffolds are torturing the trees they encase. Many trees have only one little hole for the main trunk, and all the other branches are ignored, kept from sunlight, and often withering. We planted these trees to beautify our neighborhoods. Also, how about engaging New Yorkers to report scaffolding abuses instead of spending $$$ on a “task force” to do that? Get neighbors/New Yorkers involved!

  8. Linda, the “task force” is how politicians stall. They have “meetings” and put together a “task force” instead of advocating for the community. We’re all being played. And I agree about the trees of course!

  9. I’m sure the scaffolding business paid big money to local politicians campaigns to be allowed this nonsense.
    We also just spent a ton of money to plant a few trees in HellsKitchen which most died by new scaffolding going up!

  10. If I’m a landlord I’m now going to leave my scaffolding up just so I can get a cheaper loan, funded by taxpayers.

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