Security blockade around Trump Tower is new normal for New Yorkers
President-elect's high-rise Manhattan home is logistical nightmare for residents, businesses
It is a security and logistical nightmare, placed in the heart of an area that, on a good day, is already a traffic and pedestrian disaster. But that's the new reality when the president-elect lives in the heart of the biggest city in the U.S.
With checkpoints, bag inspections, metal and concrete barricades and police armed with automatic weapons, the glitzy block of Fifth Avenue that's home to Trump Tower is more fortress than fashionable these days.
Many had hoped the problem would go away on Jan. 20, 2017, the day of Donald Trump's inauguration, when in theory, he'd move to the White House and take the security with him.
But with reports suggesting he'll return to the gold-embossed penthouse on the top three floors of Trump Tower on weekends — and that his wife Melania and son Barron will remain in the city while the latter finishes the school year — residents and nearby businesses are not happy.
"I don't think it's the most responsible thing for him to do," said Bruce Lander who works nearby. "It's a very busy part of Manhattan. It's going to inconvenience a lot of people if he plans on spending a lot of time here over the next four years."
Lander is not alone.
"I think it's obscene, it's obscene," local resident Nancy Tobin told Reuters. "He can go to his place in Westchester and cozy up to his fancy, wealthy friends."
Restaurateur David Chang owns three restaurants in the vicinity and took to social media to express his frustration with the closing of 56th Street, tweeting:
All the NYPD & Secret Service checkpoints killing restaurant foot traffic on 56th St. It's not like I needed another reason to dislike trump—@davidchang
Not sure how mid-town business located near trump tower, can handle the loss of foot traffic moving forward. Make 56th Street Great Again—@davidchang
The foot traffic now consists of tourists eager to get a photo in front of the gold Trump Tower sign, before being ushered along by heavily armed police.
After closing the sidewalk in front of Trump Tower last week, police have since reopened it, along with public access to the atrium. With multiple barriers blocking the streets, the area is settling into an uneasy equilibrium.
"It was beautiful," said Texan Cathy Arvin. "I got some good shots. There was security there and everything. It was fun to watch."
Her husband, Ron, added: "It's necessary. If he's our future president, then that's what he needs to be secured to make sure he stays protected."
Tourist Kelli Stewart, who came with her family to see what all the fuss was about, didn't mind the extra security.
"It's very nice, " she said. "We're from Georgia, so we were nervous about coming, but it makes you feel very safe down here."
Tom Cusick, president of the Fifth Avenue Business Improvement District, described the security situation as "tolerable."
Cusick said Nov. 9 when Trump was home and Hillary Clinton was giving her concession speech a block away was the low point for the area, but things have improved since then. Stores inside Trump Tower, such as jeweler Tiffany and Co., have negotiated access for their customers.
But Cusick estimates that overall, stores on Fifth Avenue could lose millions of dollars because of the limitations on foot traffic. He said he hopes that doesn't happen.
"I want to emphasize that every one of our stores is open."
Securing a building that complex is not easy. Trump has lived there for more than three decades. His office is on the 26th floor; his three-storey penthouse occupies the top floors, with offices and private residences in between. He's already hosted one world leader, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, there.
Then there's the challenge of ongoing protests that have seen thousands gather in front of the building, forcing nearby streets to be shut down.
Security expert David Katz said that, normally, for a private residence, his company would go through a 17-page checklist. But the size and scope of the security challenge here is unprecedented. He said anything that even touches the building will be looked at and scrutinized.
3-kilometre no-fly zone
"It's an enormous task," Katz said. "Every tenant in the building, they're going to check them, vet them. Every vendor providing service, they're going to look at them."
Katz says the building will have to be fortified as well, with bulletproof glass replacing the windows of Trump's office and residence and line of sight checked from the numerous surrounding towers. A no-fly zone has already been established within a three-kilometre radius of the tower, and aircraft are prohibited from flying below 3,000 feet.
It's estimated that securing the building is costing the city more than a $1 million a day, a total that could run to more than $1 billion over Trump's four-year term. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has asked for help from the federal government.
"The NYPD is particularly well suited to take on this challenge," the mayor said at a recent news conference. "But it is an unprecedented challenge. In the modern world with the security dynamics we face today, we have never had a situation where the president of the United States would be here on such a regular basis."
With an estimated five million tourists expected to descend on New York City through the Thanksgiving-to-Christmas holidays, de Blasio asked for visitors and residents to think twice before going to the area.
"People need to recognize for their own good and everyone else's is that to the extent that you can avoid the immediate area around Trump Tower, that will make your own life easier and everyone else's," the mayor said.
With files from Reuters