Wednesday, July 25, 2007

New Controversy Over Thor's Handling of Historic Coney Island Buildings

Stillwell Avenue

Coney Island USA's Dick Zigun, who founded the Mermaid Parade and is a member of the board of the Coney Island Development Corp. among other things, has been involved in efforts to landmark a number of significant Coney Island structures and has been seeking a permanent home amidst the redevelopment that will take place. In that context, the story in today's amNY is a must read for those following the Coney Island story, both because Mr. Zigun speaks out about his dealings with developer Joe Sitt and Thor Equities and because it deals with the fate of two structures with fascinating histories, the Grasshorn and Henderson buildings.

The Coney Island USA organization has city grant money to buy a permanent home and, last year, was in talks with Mr. Sitt to use $2 million to purchase the Grasshorn building. (It has already purchased its building at 1208 Surf Avenue, but was looking to the other building as that the Coney Island Museum, which needs a bigger, better home, could expand.) We'll let amNY pick up the narrative:
Zigun hoped to move the Coney Island Museum into the building that was best known as the home of Henry Grasshorn's hardware store, which provided amusement owners with the parts they needed to keep their rides running. But Sitt broke off talks with Coney Island USA last month, saying the building was no longer for sale and that he planned to build a new structure there, Zigun said...

"He will not sell me any of those buildings because he intends to knock down every old building that Thor owns and only develop new buildings and not really be involved with any type of preservation efforts," Zigun said.

Thor officials declined to comment.

The Grasshorn and Henderson buildings are among six structures in the neighborhood that Coney Island USA has nominated for landmark protection, but the organization has received unofficial feedback saying the two buildings have been altered too significantly over the years to qualify, leaving their fate solely in Sitt's hands.

"I thought we were over this, where developers and architects realize that, in a place like New York, a mix of rehabbed old buildings together with new buildings speaks a lot more to the history and culture of New York City than a suburban attitude, where everything is new and sort of uniformed," said Zigun, who added that because Sitt led him on for a year and a half into believing he would sell the Grasshorn building, Coney Island USA faces forfeiting its grant money if it does not spend it before the end of the Bloomberg administration next year.
GL Analysis
One should understand that Mr. Zigun is not anti-development, but is fighting for development that makes sense for Coney Island, and for preserving a genuine amusement district. We understand that real estate negotiation is a tough game, but we're especially at a loss for words in this case. We are pretty shocked that Thor would risk this sort of awful publicity. Our own personal reacation to the developer's conduct as related in the story is confined to individual words: Reprehensible. Disgusting. Awful. Vile. While Mr. Sitt is under no obligation to provide more space for Mr. Zigun's organization, as a major landowner and as one that has a number of structures that are of historic interest in Coney Island and as a developer that needs to cultivate public support, the sort of conduct reported in the amNY story is truly troubling, if not totally counterproductive. It is part of a troubling pattern of distressing behavior including evictions and premature demolition of attractions and the reported refusal to give Astroland another year without a zoning deal that has generated significant opposition to and concern about the Coney Island project. It plays into the hands of those arguing that Thor is playing a dangerous game of chicken with city officials and that the ultimate victim could be Coney Island itself if the city does not move quickly to safeguard its future.



Blogger JakeGould said...

Exactly. The other thing the AMNY story mentions is that Dick Zigun was in talks with Thor for the property. Now, ultimately Thor is the villain here. Lying to people and generally being what is colloquially described as an "asshole" to others. But I can't help but think that Dick Zigun might have been louder and more vocal about what is happening to Coney Island had he not be in tallks with Thor.

Hopefully now that Thor has officially screwed everyone over, more and more people will speak out about what they are doing and how they are doing it.

7:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this for those of us watching Coney's struggle from afar -- I was afraid something like this would happen. It's clear that Thor Equities just wants to raze every inch of the land they've purchased and build their damn condos. I really detest this kind of disingenuous, misleading, and downright crappy behavior. Historic preservation has a place in modern-day real estate development. Like Dick Zigun, I am not anti-development but rather in favor of development that makes sense for the neighborhood. I was afraid something like this was going to happen, and yet I think I could have predicted it, too.

I think Joe Sitt needs to sign up for the historic preservation readings course my husband's going to be teaching this fall at the university where he's a PhD student. He's already got one real estate development student signed up, so if Joey Coney feels like taking a semester off and coming down to South Carolina to get schooled, we'd even let him crash at our place... NOT!

7:30 PM  
Blogger JakeGould said...

One other point about this whole mess. I can't help but compare it to Bruce Ratner and the Atlatic Yards project. People don't like Ratner, but at least he's been honest and clear in his intentions even if you disagree with him.

In the case of Joe Sitt? Manipulation on top of manipulation on top of bullying tactics. In my mind, there is officially no reason to believe anything he and his organzaition say or do.

They destroyed the Albee Square Mall and now this.

9:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

preworn speaks the truth but i will say Zigun was in a no-win situation. he can try to be the most charming, persuasive pawn in the world but was there ever any real question he was a pawn? hell, i'd even venture there are a few people in City Hall who truly like & appreciate all he's done but yeah, to everyone watching this... it's not a surprise in the least. i'd like to call this whole fiasco Sitt's own version of a funhouse mirror but it's too goddamn depressing. (& yes, while i love quiet Coney, esp. in winter, there are plenty of ways to redevelop the area that are a whole lot less destructive to its history.)

jeanne, if you post back here, can you suggest any crucial texts in yr husband's class? txxx in advance--


9:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey wwib... not wanting to totally hijack this comment thread with my husband's recommended reading, I posted some stuff over at my own blog. If you click the hyperlink in my name above it'll take you there.

10:59 PM  

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