Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Inside the Coney Island Redevelopment Drama

Coney at Dusk from Astro Tower

We awoke this morning to find a fascinating article on the Coney Island redevelopment proposed by developer Joe Sitt and Thor Equities from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle that has been posted over on the Coney Island Message Board by the blogger who produces the wonderful Kinetic Carnival blog. (The Eagle follows a subscription-only policy, so its articles generally go unseen in the blogosphere.) Kinetic has a great take on the story that you should read. In any case, the long article, which should be read in its entirety makes several interesting points:

1) Thor Equities continues to say that an amusement park alone will lose money. The company is producing a plan based on 1.4 million visitors coming to a $250 million park that would replace Astroland, which currently draws 350,000 annual visitors. Mr. Sitt wants to build 975 residential units in the amusement zone in four towers along Stillwell Avenue. The tallest tower, which would be on the boardwalk, would be 50 stories tall.

2) The owners of Astroland say they sold to Thor because they concluded that being surrounded by construction for up to five years would kill their business and there was no interest on the part of the city in working with them to develop their property as a "year-round" attraction.

3) The purchase of Astroland came as a surprise to city officials, who weren't counting on Mr. Sitt buying an operating amusement.

4) The Coney Island Development Corporation has, so far, rejected a proposal to move some of Astroland's rides to a temporary site on W. 10th Street which could add life to Coney during the possibly long period before redevelopment.

5) Entrepreneur Diana Carlin, AKA Lola Staar, who was evicted by Mr. Sitt from her boardwalk store after refusing to sign a confidentiality clause, is the person behind the new Save Coney Island group.

6) Thor likes to hand out copies of Charles Denson's Coney Island: Lost and Found to investors. In a Ratnerian touch of irony (shades of the anti-Atlantic Yards actress featured in a Ratner flyer), Mr. Denson is against Mr. Sitt's project, calling it, among other things "generic and ugly." He continues: “This is the greatest danger that Coney has ever been in. To have one owner [in the amusement district] is the worst possible scenario. It could be the end of everything.”

7) Horace Bullard, who had grand plans for Coney Island but never built anything (and still holds undeveloped property), says he believes that Mr. Sitt is "the Second Bullard." He predicts that Mr. Sitt will leave Coney Island with vast new parcels of empty land and become frustrated that he can't build anything.

8) The Coney Island Development Corp is concerned about stories that Coney will be left a dark and empty place and that the city's own plans to anchor development with Steeplechase Plaza on one end and a redone Coney Island Aquarium on the other could be sabotaged. In the meantime, the Eagle Reports, the "breakdown in the negotiations between Thor Equities and the city became public. People started to get scared when reports came out that Sitt would scrap the whole thing if he couldn’t build condos in the amusement district, and that city officials weren’t budging."

Related Posts:
City Takes Another Crack at Coney Amusements
Sitt Frustrated with Opposition to Coney Plan



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