Showdown at the Coney Corral

Showdown at the Coney Corral

So it comes to this. Later tonight–6:30 to be exact–the Municipal Art Society will hold its final meeting on Coney Island, where it will take comments from the community, present the work of its charrette team, and, finally, present their recommendations to the city, a copy of which AN has received. The group’s timing couldn’t be better because we have also learned that the city is to certify its own long-simmering plans for Coney on Tuesday. Meanwhile, the entire neighborhood has gone (further) to pot.

Though the MAS has received more than 300 recommendations through its ImagineConey website–which it kicked off with a Will Alsop-led charrette in November–the heart of its recommendations come from a report prepared by “amusement developer” David Malmuth and real estate advisory company Robert Charles Lesser & Co.

Though the group probably has other ideas in store, there are four in particular it would like to see the city take up. First is the purchase of any land to be utilized as an amusement park so as to prevent future problems akin to those the city and local businesses are facing with developer Joe Sitt. Second, the MAS believes any master plan should be shaped by locals, and especially amusement operators and vendors, and that it should include a singular iconic ride that can come to symbolize the new Coney. Third, the city should require, instead of recommend, entertainment- and amusement-related uses for Coney West and Coney North. (The current plan only requires amusements in the main park area, Coney East.)

One of two major departures for the MAS from the city is the demand that some interim short-term programming be implemented to keep the neighborhood vibrant and viable as the new rezoning is worked out and new amusements are built, a process that could take decades. The other, and most damning, point is that, in order to be viable, the new amusement area must cover 25 acres.

The city’s most recent numbers call for only 9 acres of amusement park, which was reduced from 15 acres initially proposed last February, when the rezoning was announced. According to Malmuth’s report, that is the level required to attract and support 3.5 million visitors per year, which he says is the critical mass needed to make Coney truly stable and protect it from the sort of market fluctuations and development pressures that have led it astray in the past.

Still, even if the MAS has come to some firm conclusions already about what it wants to see from the city, the community proposals are certainly worth checking out. With submissions from the likes of Fred Schwartz and countless architecture students, they’re pretty trippy, even garnering a particularly vicious
and snarky perusal
from Curbed blogger Robert Guskind. And yet, over at his main blog, Gowanus Lounge, Bob gives a thoughtful analysis of the MAS approach:

We respect our friends at the Municipal Art Society and their ImagineConey effort. They have been one of the most vocal groups insisting that the city come up with a interim plan to keep Coney Island viable. Yet, we’re also concerned that as latecomers to the debate–which has been ongoing now for nearly three years–some of what they are bringing to the table is more of a distraction than a help.


Mayor Bloomberg, Amanda Burden, Purnima Kapur, Lynn Kelly and all the CIDC Board members, Joe Sitt, Kent Barwick–we’re talking to you and about you. Let’s cut out the meaningless twaddle and get down to the real work of making sure the summers of 2009 and 2010 are not the Summers of Horror in Coney Island. And, if that means sacrificing vision and slowing down bureaucratic process, so be it.

Much as we wish that Bob’s wishes would come true, something tells us neither MAS’s proposals nor Tuesday’s all-but-certain certification will deliver.