Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Coney Island #2: The Lola Staar Controversy

Don't look now, but Lola Staar's return to the boardwalk has prompted a bit of a controversy among the regulars at the Coney Island Message Board. Words like "sell out" are being used to suggest that Dianna Carlin (aka Lola) used the Save Coney Island protest to get her store back after she'd been evicted by Thor Equities developer Joe Sitt. Ms. Carlin, for her part, sent out a press release yesterday saying that "I intend to continue with the Save Coney Island Organization and to stand up for my beliefs about how Coney Island should be redeveloped." She did not have to sign a "gag rule" as part of her lease, an objection to which led to her eviction in the first place.

The objections to Ms. Carlin's return to the boardwalk seem to range from everything from the fact that she is not a "real" Brooklynite (and that, as someone that wasn't born and raised in the borough, she has no right to hold and voice opinions about Brooklyn) to the fact that she caters to "hipsters." Ms. Carlin, who despite her cheerful demeanor seems quite capable of giving as good as she gets (just ask Mr. Sitt), has fired back with her own responses. Ms. Carlin writes:
I started Save Coney Island (which now has over 1,200 members) and organized the "No Condos in Coney" demonstration on the steps of City Hall. My goal for Save Coney Island was to create an organization which would spread information about the redevelopment, give people the opportunity to discuss and express their opinions and ideas about Coney Island, and to organize events which would publicly express these opinions and convictions about the redevelopment. Mr. Sitt was frightened by the negative press and the growing resistance against his plan. This caused him contact me. I agree that Mr. Sitt's decision to evict me and to offer me my store back were very contrived decisions which he ultimately hoped would work to his advantage. Regardless, it is positive that it has open up a dialogue about his plan.
We believe the issues of Ms. Carlin's store and her position on Coney Island redevelopment are very different ones. We were thrilled to find her back and, frankly, found the prospect of the boardwalk without her and her merchandise depressing. When we first talked to Ms. Carlin several months ago, she had lost the heart of her business. When we saw her on Saturday, she was happy and smiling. No one deserves to lose their livelihood because they want to speak their mind or to have to make a choice between a business and free speech (although we're aware that people make these choices every day). We are very happy for her.

As for "Save Coney Island," there is nothing wrong with sitting down with a gentleman who potentially holds Coney Island's future in the palm of his hand. We frankly wish that Mr. Sitt and his team would reach out more broadly to those with an interest in a place with such a rich history. Building consensus is important, and Thor has not done a very good job of creating bridges.

We have talked and corresponded a great deal with Ms. Carlin. We don't think she will let Mr. Sitt off the hook or stop voicing her opinions about Coney Island because she has a lease.

You go, Lola.

Related Posts:
"Coney Island Miracle"? Lola Staar is Back

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