Thursday, July 12, 2007

Coney "Kitsch vs. Cash" in the Washington Post

Astroland Crowd

Yesterday's Washington Post had a front page story about Coney Island that is one of the first we've seen by an out-of-town writer that actually managed to capture the debate over its future without falling into the pit of hyperbole over a glitzy $2 billion makeover. The story, headlined "A Sea Change at Coney Island? Plan to Redevelop Aging Resort Pits Kitsch vs. Cash" was written by Anthony Faiola. It manages to hit many of the key points, including the various class issues that are frequently glossed over in stories about the redevelopment.

Mr. Faiola writes:
Supporters of the snazzy redevelopment say the run-down place needs a new look -- "a Coney Island for the 21st century," better suited to New York's evolution into a city that is safer, cleaner and richer than at any point in its modern history. But other New Yorkers are aghast, seeing it as the symbolic last nail in the coffin of the rough-edged fun that once made New York New York.

This city's once-serendipitous streets, they say, have gradually devolved into a bland collection of chain stores, over-conceptualized restaurants and upscale retail spaces that, while larger and higher-priced, increasingly have little else to separate them from similar fare elsewhere in America. They point to redeveloped Times Square, now kid-safe and complete with the world's largest Toys "R" Us, but bereft of urban vibe. They look at SoHo, once an edgy artists district with affordable lofts now fully transformed into multimillion-dollar spaces for Wall Street executives and the stores that love them, including Dolce & Gabbana, Prada and Chanel...

The biggest controversy, however, remains [developer Joe] Sitt's contention that he needs hotels and timeshares as high as 40 stories to make his redeveloped Coney Island financially viable. They would, he says, help him turn Coney Island -- now open only during the summer months -- into a year-round destination.

But critics say such structures would dwarf the island's landmarks, ruining its quaint appeal. Meanwhile, his plans to spruce up the joint -- "you know, like bring in a bookstore with a Starbucks in it," he said -- have many crying foul.

"He wants to bling it up; he wants to bring in all this retail and create a kind of enclosed mall with high-rise towers," said Robert Lieber, president of the New York City Economic Development Corp. "That isn't consistent with the historic nature of Coney Island."
Interesting thing, that last quote from Mr. Lieber, who does not appear to be enthralled with the Thor Equities Coney Island proposals. There's also a really nice video and panoramic photos that go with the story if you click here. Read the story. It's worth it.

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