New York's Coney Island in fight over renewal

Shia Levitt
Brooklyn residents Halima Hamzad and Maria Maldonado enjoy a snack near the carousel at Deno's Wonder Wheel Amusement Park in Coney Island.

Here's an idea for cash-strapped New York City: Redevelop Coney Island – that oasis of fun for generations of city dwellers – and build up its tax base.

That's not my idea. Many people want to do it.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is one. He wants to rezone 47 acres of the amusement-park-cum-neighborhood and create a ritzy waterfront development of hotels, restaurants, retail stores, and the city's first new roller coaster since Coney Island's landmark Cyclone.

Developer Joseph Sitt is another. He has his own vision of a Vegas-style destination.

They're battling right now over how that revitalization will be done and who will do it. The area's residents, a diverse community of African-Americans; Latinos; and immigrants from China, Russia, and Ukraine, have their own ideas.

The New York City Council overwhelmingly backed Mr. Bloomberg's redevelopment plan in a key vote in July. But Mr. Sitt, as the owner of a significant chunk of the amusement property, has yet to reach a deal with the city.

In the meantime, the number of Coney Island attractions is dwindling. The area's four-decade-old Astroland closed last year. On Friday, Sitt locked out the operator of its replacement, Dreamland Park, for failure to keep up with rent payments.

Still, the spirit of the place lives on at the remaining attractions, like the famous and oft-copied Cyclone roller coaster and the Wonder Wheel. (See video.)

Some are optimistic that revitalization will come.

“With the city’s new project to revitalize Coney Island, they’re talking about building 4,500 more residential units and also improving the amusement area.... [T]he best may be yet to come,” says Stan Fox, a lifelong Coney Islander, whose family once owned the four Playland Penny Arcades. Mr. Fox hopes the new residential units stay far enough from the amusement area so they don’t bring with them any noise restrictions or curfews.

Others fear that the character of historic Coney Island could be forever lost.

“It’s going to change the whole complexion of the community,” says Anita Tosk, who grew up on 35th Street in Coney Island. “And I think it’s going to throw out the middle class and lower class.... They do need a place to live as well.”

– Monitor contributor Shia Levitt contributed to this post.



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