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04.01.2009
Barely Afloat
The City's plan to save Coney might sink it for good
Wonder Wheel Way is one of many features of the city's rezoning proposal that has been openly opposed by the community.
Courtesy DCP

“It’s headed for disaster, it’s headed off a cliff,” said Jasper Goldman, senior policy analyst at the Municipal Art Society. He was speaking of the Bloomberg rezoning
for Coney Island, which the City Planning Commission will vote on later this spring. The aim is to return the area to its former glory, but if recent events bear out, it could be the final shake in Coney’s decades-long death rattle.

The city rezoning includes an amusement district, but also housing, shops, year-
round “entertainment retail” (think Chuck E. Cheese), and parkland. Meanwhile, developer Joe Sitt has bought up much of the current amusement area, and plans a resort full of hotels and amusements. While Sitt’s hotels would be on the Boardwalk (where the remaining amusements are now), the city would place them along Surf Avenue.

Earlier, the city proposed a land swap with the developer, but Sitt wouldn’t budge. While the two parties wrangle, amusement advocates fear that entertainment retailers will displace traditional rides and arcades. “The plan kills the hen that laid the golden egg,” said Juan Rivero of Save Coney Island, adding that without a sizeable amusement park—closer to 25,000 square feet, rather than the proposed 9,000—no one will come to shop or stay at the new Coney anyhow.

The local community board further complicated the city’s gambit when it overwhelmingly voted in favor of the rezoning but added 20 stipulations, like increasing a retail cap from 2,500 square feet per store to 10,000, and forbidding eminent domain. Most points are seen as favorable to the developer, and were crafted by the area’s City Council representative Dominic Recchia, viewed by some as a crony of Sitt.

If the plan gets to the council this summer, Recchia holds de facto veto power. And so to get its plans realized, the city will need to first remove Sitt from the equation. Goldman is skeptical about such a deal because of the dire state of the city’s finances and the bad blood between both sides. “Then again,” he said, “there’s no better time to buy, given market conditions.”

Matt Chaban