Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Coney Island #2: The Quiet Developer's Viewpoint

Taconic Coney Parcel

As we noted below, Gotham Gazette has an interesting Coney Island redevelopment package this week. In addition to former Planning Commission member Stuart Pertz of the Municipal Art Society, there are pieces by Coney Island Development Corp. President Lynn Kelly and by Taconic Investment Partners VP Ari Shalam. While getting only a fraction of the coverage of Thor Equities, Taconic is a huge player in Coney Island. They are working on reopening the historic Childs Building. Here are some excerpts from Mr. Shalam:
Our first acquisition was in the spring of 2005. The strategic plan came out just around that time. Everything that we are thinking about doing is fixed with that plan. We are going to do what we can to put it together and really bring about the reality of change in Coney Island, rather than some of the failed plans that have come and gone over the years.

Now to something that is near and dear to my heart and to many of the people here: the Childs building. The Childs building is really one of the remarkable landmark structures of Coney Island. In the development community, you hear a lot of people say, “Gee, that shouldn’t be a landmark.” But it is. With the Childs building, there are no doubts. It is a wonderful building.

There are a couple things about it that are particularly important. It happens to be at a place on the Boardwalk where there is a natural bend. Trying to draw people from the narrow, reduced footprint of the amusement area, around the stadium and into some of the more transitional areas, people will look down the boardwalk and see the Childs building. We see that as a kind of gateway piece.

The Childs building has a great history. It was once part of the Childs restaurant chain. Since it closed in 1947, various people have owned it. The person we bought it from was a bookseller. It was an extraordinarily complicated transaction. The person did not really want to do anything with it. Many organizations have tried to talk to this owner. We were successful in August of 2006, finally consummating a long-term ground lease with the option to buy.

We see it as a marquee food operation with catering and opportunities for people to come in and not only eat on kind of a passer-by basis, but actually have reservations and sit down. If you look over to Brighton Beach side, you see some restaurants that come out on the Boardwalk. As you walk by, they really pull you in.

We have proposed restoring the fascia of the building. There are some beautiful medallions on there and great detail work. The interior of the building was a mess. It was dark and dingy. We have cleaned it up made it safer, installed security.

We are trying to get in a position where it could be used very soon. Because we don’t know how the ultimate rezoning and development will occur on Coney Island, we have to be careful of what money we spend now. But we are working on a way to open up the historic parts on a temporary basis this summer or at least open up the front portions of the building for that...

One of the ideas we kicked around is to try to create access to a second floor, or the roof, for a catering facility. Wouldn’t it be great to have a wedding or an event and come out to the roof and look at the ocean? If you look at some of the old pictures, you can see that there was almost a beer garden up there. We’re going to try and restore that. But the plan for that building really has to be taken in context with everything that’s going to happen around it, not only the plans for the parachute jump, but also for Steeplechase Park which is a block or two away. We have to see what happens with the rest of Coney Island.
We're all waiting to see what happens with Coney Island.



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