The theaters of Broadway and the huge number of gaudy animated neon and television-style signage have long made it one of New York's iconic images, and a symbol of the intensely urban aspects of Manhattan. Times Square is the only neighborhood with a zoning ordinance requiring tenants to display bright signs. One notable example is the new NASDAQ sign which cost $37 million to build. The sign is 120 feet (36.6m) high and is the largest LED display in the world. NASDAQ pays over $2 million a year to lease the space for this sign. This is actually considered a good deal in advertising as the number of "impressions" the sign makes far exceeds those generated by other ad forms. In 1998 the Times Square BID (Business Improvement District), a coalition of businesses dedicated to improving the quality of commerce and cleanliness in the district, started operations in the area. The density of illuminated signs in Times Square now rivals Las Vegas.
Times Square has undergone major changes in the last decade or so. For many years Times Square was a neighborhood that was full of "peep shows", erotic all-night movie houses, and stores selling tourist merchandise. It was considered a dangerous neighborhood, by many. The seediness of Times Square was a famous symbol of New York City's danger and corruption during the period from the 1960s until the 1990s. Influential and dark films such as Midnight Cowboy and Taxi Driver had many scenes in Times Square. In the mid-90s, mayor Rudy Giuliani (1994-2002) helped clean up the area, including the closing of sex shops, increased security, and more tourist-friendly attractions. Many of the sex shops closed or moved to industrial areas in Brooklyn or Queens.
More recently, such establishments have been shut down and more up-scale establishments have opened there. The process began in the late 1990's when the local government issued an injunction against the tight clustering of the porn shops in the 42nd Street area. Times Square now boasts such stores as a Disney Store, a Warner Brothers Store, a major TV studio, as well as restaurants such as Ruby Foo's (Chinese food) and Lundy's (seafood) and a number of multiplex movie theaters. It is also attracting a number of financial institutions. A larger police presence in Times Square has improved the safety of the area. Whilst the revitalised region is undoubtedly safer and more pleasant, some complain that the area has lost its spark and is now a thoroughly sanitized, Disneyfied version of itself—just another strip of franchised stores like anywhere else in the United States.
A ball signifying New Year's Day was first dropped at Times Square on January 1, 1905 and ever since the Square has been the site of the main New Year's celebration in New York City. On this night hundreds of thousands of people congregate to watch the Waterford crystal ball being lowered to the ground marking the new year. In 2002, NYC's mayor, Rudy Giuliani gave the oath of office to the city's next mayor Michael Bloomberg after midnight, as part of the celebration. In 2001, approximately 500,000 revelers attended the fete. Security was high following the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attack with over 7,000 New York City police on duty in the Square (twice the number for an ordinary year).