New York Post Nov. 1, 2009   

Boot for stable threatens Central carriages     


Whoa, no!     

A quarter of Central Park's carriage horses will be left without a place to hit the hay this holiday season -- and could lose their Manhattan home forever.   
The city has ordered Shamrock Stables to hoof it out of the municipal-owned building it occupies on West 45th Street next month.   

The city's Housing Preservation and Development agency wants to tear down the stable to make room for affordable housing.   

Now Shamrock's 17 carriage owners -- and 32 horses -- are jockeying for new digs.   

But Manhattan's four other stables operate at capacity during the holidays, drivers told The Post.

That means 25 percent of the city's 68 carriages could be out of commission at a time of peak demand -- and it means longer lines for tourists who count a horse-and-buggy ride in Central Park as a "must-do" holiday experience.

For the drivers, it spells financial disaster. They count on the Christmas business to get through the lean months that follow.

"This is my life. I can't imagine that there would be no place in the city for these horses," said Shamrock Stables owner Ian McKeever, who got the marching orders last week and broke the bleak news to the carriage drivers Friday morning.

"I'm actively working with the city and hopefully can come up with a solution that's good for them and for Shamrock," said McKeever, who started in the carriage business when he emigrated from Ireland in 1985.

Driver Pedro Tapia struggled with the news as he and his horse, Beauty, left the stables for Central Park.

"I love this job. I grew up on a farm in Mexico, and we always had horses," said Tapia. "I've got five family members in this business. I don't know what we'd do without it."

Stable boarder Brendan McMahon said the bulk of the carriage owners, many of them second-generation Irish, Italian and Polish horse enthusiasts, support their families on earnings that average between $30,000 and $40,000 a year.

"It's not a second job for most of them or an extra bit of income," he said. "This is a really serious blow to about 23 families just before Christmas. It's a trust issue. I really feel we're being abandoned."

Many of the horses boarded at Shamrock are familiar to the schoolchildren who go to PS 51 next door -- and to fans of "Sex and the City" and "Law & Order."

McKeever's favorite horse, Roger, a bright chestnut with a gentle disposition who was rescued from an abusive farm owner, has appeared on both shows, and "Law & Order" has filmed at the stable several times.

 The city moved the 41-year-old stable, Manhattan's oldest, to its current location in 2000 after taking over its original space, on East 61st Street at York Avenue, for FDR Drive construction.

Shamrock wasn't given a lease but has gotten a rent bill from the city each month the last nine years -- all promptly paid.

In 2005, according to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, the entire block was rezoned. The city laid out its plans for a major development that would expand PS 51, build 1,300 affordable-housing units where the stables stand and add 10,000 feet of retail space to the neighborhood.

The stable was told it would eventually have to move but was not given a deadline, the city said.

"This project has been in the works for years, and it's an amazing opportunity and investment that will help transform this neighborhood and pay dividends for years to come," said Housing spokesman Eric Bederman. "When the stable came to this location, it was understood that this wasn't meant to be a permanent home and that at some point they would have to move."

But McKeever said he was "blindsided" when he was told last week that he had just weeks to get out.

"Eight months ago, they said it would be years and years before the site was developed," he said. "Six weeks ago, we were told there were no development plans yet on the site."    

McKeever said he was told by a Housing official to be out by mid-December. The city told The Post the stable had until the end of the year.    

The city also said it did an impact study and found there was room at other stables -- but calls by The Post indicate the Shamrock horses are likely to be out of luck.    

Stall space is almost impossible to come by for the next three months, drivers said. In high season, horses work only five hours because they are doing more rides. To avoid straining them, drivers swap them out more frequently. As more horses are brought into Manhattan to fill these holiday shifts, stable space dries up.    

"We'd be surprised if we could get three horses in the other stables," said Shamrock spokeswoman Carolyn Daly.     

Even if some horses succeed in finding berths elsewhere, it'll be next to impossible for McKeever to find a new stable without help from the city. It has to be large enough for his horses -- plus the 700 bales of hay the horses eat every two weeks, tons of 50-pound bags of feed and sawdust, the 17 carriages, tack and other equipment.    

The horses can't be lodged too far from Central Park and require special ventilation, since they can't tolerate air conditioning or modern heating.

Paying market rent would devastate his business, McKeever said, since carriage drivers haven't had a raise since 1989. They can charge only $34 per ride.

In the past, the city has mulled building stables at 85th Street inside Central Park, a solution that carriage drivers and even industry critics support.

But some residents would like to see the horses put out to pasture for good.

 "At most, there should be four allowed to circle the park, but that's it," said skin-care expert Nicole Pozzetti, who works near 59th Street. "I'm tired of coming to work with poo on my shoe. It's on the streets every day, and they just throw some hay over it."

Others, however, remain entranced by the romantic aura of old New York that the horse-and-buggies create.

Said Alex Genoa, a security guard near Central Park: "It makes the city special."

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