NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Despite recent reports suggesting a deal has been reached that would save Central Park’s horse-drawn carriages from a threatened ban, both sides are now publicly saying that is not the case.
“On our behalf a deal is not imminent, not imminent,” said Stephen Malone of Teamsters Local 553.
Earlier this week, a City Hall official not authorized to speak publicly about the ongoing negotiations had told The Associated Press an announcement was likely Friday on a plan that would retire as many as two-thirds of the approximately 200 horses now working in the park from the carriage fleet.
The potential plan would provide a new stable in the park for the remaining horses. The stable, which would replace four privately owned stables on the West Side, would have space for around 75 horses, although the official said that number could change as the plan firms up.
One location that was reportedly being discussed for the horses’ new home was Central Park’s 86th Street Transverse.
But speaking for The Carriage Association, Malone said they had “not agreed to anything along those lines yet.”
“It would be very crippling to our industry to lose any horse,” he told 1010 WINS’ Glenn Schuck. “We’re fighting tooth and nail to make sure that every horse, every job and driver is preserved to maximum proportion.”
Speaking to reporters Friday morning, Mayor Bill de Blasio said there were still “ongoing discussions.”
“We think some good discussions are happening,” he said. “We don’t have an agreement yet.”
He added, “as soon as we have something we’ll announce it.”
The issue of horses in Central Park has been a long, ongoing debate between the de Blasio administration, the horse carriage industry and animal activists.
Animal rights advocates have been fighting to get the carriages banned entirely and de Blasio had pledged to end the popular carriage rides in favor of electric old-time style cars that would still appeal to tourists.
But the plan received backlash and never got the backing it needed from City Council.
Moving the horses to the park would address one complaint from animal rights activists, which was that the horses were in danger every time they made their daily walks from their staging area at the park partway across town to the urban stables where they sleep at night.
But Elizabeth Forel of the Coalition to Ban Horse Drawn Carriages said Thursday she remains “absolutely” opposed to any plan that does not ban carriage horses altogether. She also questioned whether it’s proper to house horses belonging to private businesses in the very public Central Park that serves as a refuge for harried urban denizens.
“What right does Mayor Bill de Blasio have to take public land and build a stable for private use?” asked Forel. Besides, she said, even in the park that’s often filled with crowds, the horses can “get spooked” and run rampant.
Another animal rights group sees a potential move to Central Park as a compromise that would clear streets of carriages.
“We’re open to a compromise, but we need to see more details,” said John Collins, spokesman for NYCLASS, an animal advocacy organization working for “a more humane city for all New Yorkers, two-legged and four-legged.”
Some of the carriage drivers believed the possible compromise was the mayor’s way of keeping on good terms with some of his biggest supporters and donors, CBS2’s Janelle Burrell reported.
Those supporters say they’re concerned about the animals, but many believe they’re also interested in the property taken up by the stables on the West Side.
“It’s about money, politics, power, you know real estate, where the stables are,” said driver Luis Kemmer.
While some call the industry inhumane to the animals, the carriage drivers say it’s a popular tourist attraction that provides hundreds of jobs, some of them now in jeopardy.
“Ive been in the business for 11 years, my dad’s been in the business 40 years and it’s very upsetting,” said driver Frank Riccobono. “We’re all hard working people. The horses have a great life here.”
“Just leave it as it is,” said carriage driver Peter Wilson.
Wilson has been driving carriages in New York City for 10 years and is eager for a resolution.
“My son is going to school, I have grandkids. This is what I do. This is my livelihood. I don’t want it to be taken away, not by the mayor, not by anybody else,” he said.
Central Park already has one stable originally used by a city equine unit and now for storage; it is not clear whether it could be repurposed.
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