Another Coney dream
Two urban planners from the Municipal Art Society came to our DUMBO offices this week to share their vision for “saving” Coney Island — and there’s a lot to admire in their beautiful dream.
But most dreams, like winning the lottery or not putting on weight during the holidays, crash into reality — and those concerning the fabled “People’s Playground” are no exceptionSome elements of the Society’s vision are essential: Given the death of Astroland, planners are seeking new amusements in the short term, so that visitors from near and far don’t go to Coney Island next summer and find only one kiddie park (Deno’s) and few bedraggled arcade operators.
To that end, the Society is calling on the city to purchase 25 acres of continuous waterfront property and to lease that land on the cheap to a private amusement company that would operate — or arrange for the operation of — a new theme park.
The Society also wants that operator to bring in an eye-popping thrill ride — a Cyclone roller coaster for the 21st century, if you will. Such an attraction, which amusement operators call a “weenie,” would go a long way towards reestablishing Coney’s tradition as a place of world-renowned amusement innovations.
The Society also believes — rightly so — that Coney Island’s future must include better use of the area’s existing institutions, including the Keyspan Park baseball stadium, the Cyclone roller coaster, and the under-utilized New York Aquarium.
But the central element of the Society’s vision has a fundamental flaw: the notion that the city can, and should, find a benevolent landlord to fly in and save Coney Island. By extending a sweetheart deal to this operator, their argument goes, the operator would have the public interest at the center of its business plan. Yeah, and we’ve got a bridge to sell you.
But here’s the bigger problem — and it is one of the city’s own making:
Over the years, the city’s willingness to change the area’s zoning from amusement-only use (the only sure-fire way to keep amusements on the site) to something that would allow for condos, hotels and retail on the site has unleashed speculation. If condos and hotels were to be allowed on the beachfront property, the value of the land would skyrocket.
Indeed, it has.
Amusement-only zoning worked well for the Albert family’s Astroland for more than 40 years. It was only when Astroland owner Carol Albert sold the land to Joe Sitt — at a speculator’s price — did the economics of running that amusement park become untenable.
Ironically, another of the area’s key landowners, Horace Bullard, once had a grand, Municipal Art Society-style dream of deeding his oceanfront land to the city, combining it with the city-owned Steeplechase Park into a single 25-acre lot, and then having the city lease it back to him for a grand amusement park with 60 new rides.
But Bullard couldn’t get the deal financed (sound familiar?) and now his land sits unused while he awaits a chance to cash in like Albert on the city rezoning.
That’s why the Muncipal Art Society’s vision, while glorious to ponder, is just another Coney dream.
THE BROOKLYN PAPER
I had found this story in the Brooklyn Paper last night -- the one thing no one seems to mention is that the City has purchased Deno's and supposedly has a 20+ year lesae for the rides to remain. The Wonder Wheel is a landmark and can not be moved. That would be the center piece if Thor owned all surrounding property. Ther are a few remaining pieces that have not sold.
The city has a very similar - almost identical plan to Thor for part of Coney Island ( from W 13th - Keyspan Park). If the city is allowed to rezone the area they plan on removing the C7 status - The C7 status is the only thing protecting the amusemnt park rides, games etc. The city plans on having the area re-zoned to "Parks Land" Parks land can be designated but still allow for condos, hotels, apts, even retail space such a s a boutigue style shopping. The hisotry of the amusement park industry will not be prtected if the land is turned to parks land.
There are buildings that should be upgraded along with the baordwalk etc - but, do not mistake that since a building needs improvement that the business it houses shoud be gone. Protect the history by mixing old with new - so many other boardwalk areas in the US has been able to accomplish this and brought new life into the area.