Hail to the Heads of State as U.N. Meeting Starts

NEW YORK-- As world leaders descend on Manhattan for the U.N. General Assembly's annual ministerial meeting, the city will be transformed.

While the assembly is at U.N. headquarters on the east side of Manhattan, its effects are felt around New York City, from hotels handling high-profile guests to restaurants hosting dinners, and other organizations taking advantage of the gathering of world leaders to host a slew of conferences and events. And of course, the traffic. Streets around the U.N. are blocked off and security is everywhere, making getting through the area a headache for drivers and an exercise in patience for residents.

"Usually about two days before it starts, the big concrete slabs are brought in" to be used as security barricades, said Domenic Alfonzetti, chief concierge at the InterContinental New York Barclay hotel, where a number of delegations stay.

"During the course of the year, we get our VIPs," he said. "During the U.N. General Assembly, you get a plethora of them."

That means handling problems like last year's missing tuxedo, he said, or making dinner reservations with enough room for the security entourages, or bringing in the personal shoppers for that busy world leader who doesn't have time to browse.

"It's exciting. I have fun with it," he said.
For New Yorkers, the arrival of the world's leaders means it's time to change their routines.

"It's avoiding certain streets, not shopping or eating out in a certain neighborhood, realizing the taxi cab is going to take a different route," said Mark Thompson, chairman of Community Board 6, which serves the area around the United Nations.

But even with the traffic hassles, it's exciting to see the who's who of the planet's governments in the area, he said.

"It's fun to be exposed to such an international world in your own backyard," he said.
For some businesses, the security barricades can mean reduced sales and less foot traffic. For others, proximity to the U.N. can actually be a blessing.

The yearly gathering is the start of a couple of particularly good months for business, said Jesus Martinez, owner of Alcala, a Spanish restaurant on East 46th Street. U.N. workers usually frequent the restaurant anyway, and more so this week.

"They are good because they give me a lot of business," he said. "I'm right here, so a lot of people come."

It's not only the neighborhood that's affected. The proximity of so many high-powered politicians makes it a good time for organizations to hold their own programs.

The Clinton Global Initiative, an annual event that brings together leaders from government, business and philanthropy, has for years coincided with the General Assembly. Among those expected to speak this year is President Barack Obama, who will be in the city for the U.N. meeting.

The leaders of Iceland and Mozambique are among the attendees expected at another conference this week, the Blouin Creative Leadership Summit. It brings together about 100 people to discuss global issues, said Ben Hartley of Louise Blouin Media.

"The fact that heads of state are coming into town," Hartley said, "allows us to get people who otherwise are leading very difficult schedules."