Coney's Brighter Future

Coney's Brighter Future

Fireworks explode over the Wonder Wheel during a summer celebration.
NB Photo Flash/Flickr

Like Coney Island’s decrepit boardwalk, the Bloomberg administrtion’s deal for Coney Island is still in the works. The boardwalk itself, however, will be receiving additional funds to complete its revitalization, one of the many concessions local representative Dominic Recchia trumpeted yesterday at a meeting of the City Council, when the city’s redevelopment plan was voted through by a vote of 44-2 with one abstention.

“We’ve still got a lot of work to do in the days ahead,” Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said after the vote. “We have every reason to feel optimistic because we’re working aggressively to iron out the terms of deals with landowners.” He was making a rare appearance in the Red Room, the council’s briefing room, as opposed to the Blue Room on “his” side of City Hall, underscoring the importance of the vote and the negotiations to the administration.

While the details of the deal remain to be seen, those with knowledge of the negotiations said the city is poised to buy part but not all of Sitt’s land, in the neighborhood of six acres out of roughly 10.5 that Thor Equities controls. Some portion of that land, which is on the east side of Keyspan Park and not the west, as AN had previously reported, could be given over to additional open-air amusements. This would be in lieu of some indoor recreational space the administration has touted as a year-round attraction for Coney.

“It’s looking like attention was paid to the amusements after all, and there was a concession made,” said Dick Zigun, founder of Coney Island U.S.A. He and other groups had been fighting for additional outdoor recreational area, arguing that such attractions have always been at the heart of Coney Island and drawn crowds. Zigun said that his understanding was the outdoor amusements would increase two to three acres, up from a current nine.

As for Sitt, the Times reported that the city has offered the developer something close to $60 million for the land, and the developer would retain control of parcels along Surf Avenue and Stillwell Avenue, including sites for two proposed hotels. At yesterday’s press conference, both Recchia and council speaker Christine Quinn said they expected no more than two of the plan’s possible four hotels to get built in the long term, though they did not say if this meant Sitt’s or the other two sites would be part of an eventual revised plan.

Whatever the final outcome, Quinn insisted it will provide a brighter future for Coney Island. “I think it would be hard for anyone to say Coney Island hasn’t lost a bit of her luster, she’s not what she once was,” Quinn said before the council’s vote. “Today, we’ll preserve what remains of Coney’s heritage but also pave the way to revitalize Coney Island, giving it a brighter future.”

The two dissenting votes came from representatives Tony Avella of Queens and Charles Barron of Brooklyn, who often vote against the city’s plans because they see them as too developer friendly. “This is a plan to make Coney Island more feasible for the business community and not the local, grassroots, indigenous people who struggle every day to be here,” Barron said. “This is an elitist venture.

Zigun, known to some as the mayor of Coney Island, countered that a compromised plan, and one that turned out okay in the end, was better than killing the proposal as some had suggested. He said it would only lead to the area’s continued collapse. “I’m not saying today was a victory, but I’m not saying it was a loss,” Zigun said. “It was a mixed bag and there was a lot of good in that bag.”

But not everyone was satisfied, especially the group Save Coney Island, which argues the city’s plan will only make things worse for amusement operators at Coney Island, not better. “We’re disappointed,” Juan Rivero, the group’s spokesperson, said. “This was the City Council’s chance to fix the rezoning and they punted on it.”