Monday, November 27, 2006

Coney Island Update-O-Rama: Polls, Museums & Questions

Coney Speedway

1) Public Support? A poll obtained by the New York Post that was commissioned and leaked by developer Thor Equities, shows The Post, reveal that nearly 76 percent of area residents "do not want city officials to block 'a $1.5 billion investment in Coney Island to expand amusement attractions and bring new restaurants and retail outlets to the community.' The survey of 400 "Coney Island-vicinity residents" was conducted by the Alexandria, Va.-based firm Fabrizio, McLaughlin & Associates.

Among the developments or amenities that residents support are restaurants (81.8 percent), hotels (80.5 percent), movie theaters (78.7 percent), more amusements/rides (76.3 percent), retail stores (74.8 percent), and a "limited amount" of residential housing (62.2 percent).

The wording of questions is unavailable and it is unclear whether residents were asked about housing in the current amusement area. In addition, it does not appear that residents were asked their opinion on buildings as tall as 40 stories, roughly double the height of the Parachute Jump.

2) Coney Island Museum. One of the encouraging bits of news out of Coney Island recently is that the city will be purchasing a home for the Coney Island Museum. (Founder and Director Dick Zigun became very involved this year in Coney redevelopment efforts when he joined the board of the Coney Island Development Corporation.) The Bay Ridge Courier fills in some details about the pending deal:
The city has agreed to put up $5.5 million to purchase a building for Zigun’s non-profit organization, Coney Island USA. Zigun said he is looking at several properties to house the Coney Island Museum, the Sideshow at the Seashore "Freak Show," and administrative office space from which to run such mainstay Coney Island events as the annual Mermaid Parade.

Currently these are housed at a building located at 1209 Surf Avenue off West 12th Street, and sources close to Zigun speculate this is the same building he is looking to buy. The building, which is owned by the Luna Park Furniture dealer across the street, has been on the market for some time, Zigun said.

Zigun said he has been renting at their current site for the past 11 years, and he rented a building on the Coney Island boardwalk for 11 years previous to that. Zigun, a member of the Coney Island Development Corporation, said he is pro-Coney Island development and backs the major developers including Thor Equities, the Taconic Investment Group and the City Investment Fund.

“Everyone from the Army to the artists, from the non-profits to major corporations, want a bigger and better Coney Island,” he said.
3) Thor Equities Plans. The Brooklyn View reports that Thor Equities will be using the vacant land it will have from making some of its tenants leave before next season for "site construction preparation." According to the paper:
While the vision seems spectacular, there is a growing concern that before the project ever comes to fruition, businesses and employees along the strip will lose business, unemployment will rise and a gaping hole among the areas under construction will reduce tourism during the summertime.
The paper also quotes Dick Zigun as saying that the proposed roller coaster, hotels, and a triple decker carousel are good ideas. "There is a world of difference and in theme parks a steel looping roller coaster is the number one attraction. It is fantastic," said Zigun. Interestingly, the paper says that Mr. Zigun is "puzzled" over Thor's plans for residential condominiums on the boardwalk. (He has long opposed putting residences in the amusement area.)

4) Is Sitt Full of It? Coney Island is an interesting place, especially in terms of land and some of its owners, and the dealings of developer Joe Sitt and Thor Equities have stirred up a big pot of speculation. The Bay Ridge Courier reports that the latest speculation is that Thor is waiting for zoning changes will flip its property. The company apparently bought the former Washington Bathhouse in 2005 for $13 million and sold it this year for $90 million to the City Investment Fund. (Not bad for nine months.) One amusement attraction operator said that Thor's plan to clear out a significant part of Coney Island long in advance of doing any construction "will hurt all of Coney Island."

Meanwhile, over at the Coney Island Message Board, BrooklynRider writes of Thor's Joe Sitt:
1) he doesn't have the experience to build in NYC
2) his lack of experience mean lenders see him as high risk and won't offer funding
3) he has, through sheer luck, found himself holding some very highly valued real estate in Brooklyn - all of which is much more valuable if he can get zoning variances. Then he flips the property.
4) his "I was born here and I love Brooklyn" song is wearing thin. Considering all the parcels he owns, he has built NOTHING in the biggest construction boom this city has seen in nearly half a century.
5) the CIDC has no commitment to a C-7 zone and would rather gain revenue through real estate taxes on luxury condo than sales taxes on amusement ride tickets.

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