New York Daily News: It's some of the swankiest real estate in Manhattan, and it's overrun with rats.
The Grand Army Plaza Park, in the shadow of the world-renowned Plaza hotel, is home to a burgeoning brood of rodents.
The city park - which borders Fifth Ave. just north of Central Park South and across from the famed fountain in front of The Plaza - is infested with pint-sized, four-legged squatters.
They are frightening tourists and even some jaded New Yorkers.
"They are big. They look like rabbits," said food cart vendor Reese Perez, 60, as he watched the parade of rats from across East Drive on the edge of Central Park.
The shrubs came alive, shaking as the squealing rodents darted in and out of the bushes and onto the surrounding sidewalks.
Perez blames the feed left behind by the horse-drawn carriages for the rat problem.
"I'm sure people are spooked by them. I know I am," said Adrian Livingston, 40, a hansom cab driver, as he waited with his horse, Bobby, for a fare outside The Plaza hotel.
Livingston, who has been driving a carriage in the area for the past two years, said the rodent population in Grand Army Plaza Park has boomed in recent months, driving fellow hansom cab drivers away from the area where they used to line up their carriages and sit at night as they waited for business.
"Compared to last year, it's off the scales," said Livingston of the infestation. He said the problem explodes after dark.
He blamed tourists who leave trash on the ground for the rat explosion.
But on a recent late night visit, the Daily News found the rats feasting on remnants of horse feed, while the sidewalks were relatively clean of trash and the wire-mesh trash pails were lined with heavy black bags.
"Neither Parks nor the Central Park Conservancy has received any complaints or seen an increase in rat activity at Grand Army Plaza," said Philip Abramson, a spokesman for the city Parks Department. "But we are maintaining and monitoring the area on a regular basis."
Tourists said the rats seem abundant, though. "It's kind of gross," said Tarryn Hill, visiting from Melbourne, Australia. "Look, they are huge," she said to friends as they stood in the rodent-free section of the park, across Central Park South near the Pulitzer Fountain outside The Plaza hotel.
Friend Bianca Theuma agreed. "It puts you off going inside the park," she said.
Other park regulars were unfazed by the beady-eyed horde.
Inside the cobblestone-lined park, a handful of homeless people slept on benches, blasé about the rodents congregating below a statue of Civil War Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman.
Other onlookers were philosophical. "There's quite a few of them," said Francis Quinta, 28, of Brooklyn as he sat on a bench on Fifth Ave. with a female friend, across from the luxurious Sherry-Netherland Hotel and just a stone's throw from the the iconic toy store FAO Schwarz.
"They are everywhere, whether you see them or not," he said of the rats. "I would rather they weren't there, but what are you going to do?"