Monday, April 23, 2007

Coney #2: Thor Now Trying the Velvet Hammer?

Lola Staar In Front of Shop

As we reported yesterday, we found Dianna Carlin, aka Lola Staar, in her boardwalk shop on Saturday, happily selling her merchandise on her first day back in business. "Being evicted is the best thing that ever happened to me," she said, explaining that she had gotten her store back for another season while retaining the ability to speak her mind about the redevelopment of Coney Island.

Ms. Carlin said that as she was about to lead a protest against Thor Equities--which has floated a deeply controversial and increasingly troubled $2 billion redevelopment plan for Coney Island--she received a phone call from developer Joe Sitt. She says she spent about an hour talking to him and sent him an email outlining her objections to his Coney plan, including his eviction of tenants, demolitions and inclusion of housing in the Coney Island "amusement zone. Ultimately, Mr. Sitt gave Ms. Carlin a new lease for the 2007 season that did not include the infamous "gag clause" that caused the problem in the first place and did so for what virtually amounts to a token sum. (He apparently has also granted a new lease to the Grill House on the boardwalk at Stillwell Avenue. That business was also said to have been evicted, but was open for business this weekend.)

What of the new Sitt strategy? Is this an attempt to see if the Kinder, Gentler Sitt works better than than the Old Sitt who closed down Carlin's store, generating many bad headlines, and publicly insulted city officials undertaking a planning process for Coney Island, including Planning Director Amanda Burden and Coney Island Development Corp. President Lynn Kelly?

Could be. Here's an interesting sample of Vieux Sitt vs. Nouveau Sitt:

Vieux Sitt, via spokesperson Tom Corsillo on March 22 in the Bay News said of Ms. Carlin's eviction, "Thor’s only comment is that it is focusing on Coney Island’s bright future and not on tenants of the past."

Nouveau Sitt, via Mr. Corsillo in the new issue of the Bay News: "As Thor Equities works toward the revitalization of Coney Island, it is committed to preserving the area’s unique and vibrant spirit. Lola Staar – like the Cyclone, Wonder Wheel, Parachute Jump and Nathan’s – is part of that spirit, and that is why it will continue to be a part of Coney Island."

And so, Ms. Carlin has gone from being part of "the past" to being "part of the spirit." What a difference 30 days makes.

We've been told that Mr. Sitt has called a number of print reporters to talk up the return of Lola Staar. Ms. Carlin told us that he promised a meeting to discuss ways to improve his Coney Island plan. He's also said to be open to painting murals on the huge fences he's erected in Coney Island (more than three blocks' worth if you put them all together) which are regarded by some as a blighting influence and perhaps to putting up temporary amusements to try to restore life to the streetscape. Mr. Sitt also appears to have backed away from erecting a 50-story building right on the boardwalk, although it's only been shifted a block west and about 1/2 block north of the boardwalk toward Surf Avenue and would clock in at 40 stories, double the height of the iconic Parachute Jump. (Astroland owner Carol Albert, who sold to Mr. Sitt last fall, was still saying as of two weeks ago that Thor had said it won't let the amusement park remain open for another season after this year, even if he cannot start construction in 2008.)

The new Sitt strategy appears to be aimed at winning over, if not silencing, possible opponents, both by trying a less confrontational public strategy and by offering incentives such as new leases. Ms. Carlin told GL that Mr. Sitt told her he previously "wasn't paying attention" to the $2 billion Coney project, had delegated it to subordinates and was focused on developments in other cities, including Chicago. He told Ms. Carlin that he wasn't aware that she'd been evicted, even though she said she placed placed dozens of phone calls to him when she was being threatened with eviction.

It wouldn't be unreasonable to conclude that (a). Thor was stung by the bad press and the protest, (b). the redevelopment could be floundering and (c). this is part of an effort to try to create a compromise that will allow the amusement district highrise condos that Thor says are essential to its plan.

It is all especially interesting in that Thor does not appear to have laid any groundwork in the community to build support and that the developer seemed to be trying to publicly pressure city officials. Ms. Carlin's eviction certainly struck many observers as being emblematic of Thor's failure to care about even about appearances.

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

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home