Coney Island in Limbo

The question still looms; What will become of Brooklyn’s once beloved Coney Island Boardwalk? This little piece of long forgotten land beside the Atlantic Ocean has been the topic of much heated debate lately. With the city, private developers, renters, and the public all putting in their two cents the desired conclusion has become quite muddled. However, this past month mayor Bloomberg announced that the site’s new Luna Park will be open for business in time for Memorial Day festivities.

Memorializing the original name of the park (up until 1944) Luna Park will showcase 19 new rides, including a simulated 90 ft. wave that riders can surf… if they are feelin’ gutsy. The park will be run by Central Amusement International and Italian ride giant Zemperla. The two companies have leased the space from the city at the rate of $100,000 a year for the span of ten years. The original owner of the land was Thor Equities the real estate company of a Mr. Joe Sitt. After a long arduous battle with Thor, this past November the city was able to reach a deal, buying 6.9 acres of Coney Island land for the price of $95.6 million.

While the city now legally owns a large portion of the seaside mecca Thor Equities still retains a significant segment of Stillwell Avenue. According to draft plans Mr. Sitt plans to essentially turn his portion of C.I. into a temporary generic strip mall type setting complete with eminent fast-food chains until the area begins to flourish, at which time he would erect several expensive high-rise hotels.

In the process of all this rebuilding several historic buildings which Mr. Sitt has deemed “structurally unstable” would be completely demolished. A point of much contention as the said buildings; the Grashorn, Henderson, Shore Hotel, and Bank of Coney Island are part of a proposed historic district. However, because they have not yet acquired official landmark status they can legally be torn down by Thor.

Unofficial Coney Island USA president Dick Zigun ripped Sitt’s plans saying,  “These are buildings of quality, with interesting architecture, with fascinating prior histories, and in a more enlightened environment would be rehabbed for 21st century use rather than destroyed so that everything looks like it’s off the highway in New Jersey.”

Mr. Zigun has a vested interest in the fate of this land as operator of the Coney Island Freak Show which had planned to renew their lease on the historic Grashorn building to house their performances this summer. A plan which was abolished when Thor decided to instead tear the building down.

A land of transition, the once famed amusement park has long sat like a tattered child torn between two opposing parents with a half-naked landscape, once at the mercy of the elements, now subject to the undulating scales of politics and economics. Along the boardwalk itself, all of the city’s tenants have been given one year leases. At the end of this year the owners of Luna Park will decide whether or not to hold onto the businesses. The more well known of which include the Lola Starr clothing store, Shoot the Freak, Ruby’s, and Cha Cha’s.

The mini stylized, tattoo fringe culture that Coney Island has of late acquired has given birth to a whole new generation of C.I. lovers many in their 20’s and 30’s. A social development that has both contributed to and been fed by such large scale events as The Siren Fest and further promoted by a label driven beer line known as Coney Island Lager. Heck, a couple of young Red Hook carpenters are even making money off the demise of the seaside palace. Using reclaimed wood from the torn up boardwalk to create (pricey) pieces of furniture.

Suffice to say sentiment regarding the fate of Coney Island and Astroland runs the gamet from nostalgic to apathetic with some vehemently opposing the current plan of reconstruction, and some eager to see what they perceive as a run down land- heap completely revamped.

Whether you view Coney Island as a decaying cotton-candy wasteland or a fading pearl of the Brooklyn seaside one thing’s for certain; expect change. As this land is soon to evolve… one way or another. Although change is inevitable visitors should not expect any grand sudden turnarounds. Vacant lots and construction sites interspersed with new attractions will be the norm for years to come as the city pursues a decades-long redevelopment plan. Coney Island will remain a work in progress for some time to come.

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– Amanda Decker


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