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Old Posted Mar 26, 2007, 11:31 AM
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NY Sun

Astroland Is Prepared To Ride Into the Sunset

Coney Island's Astroland prepares to open for its last season this year.

March 26, 2007

Workers at Coney Island's Astroland did over the weekend what they do every spring: clean up the ticket booths and prepare the rides for the April 1 opening.

This year was different in that the opening will be the last of the annual rituals at Coney Island's only remaining true amusement park. A developer, Thor Equities, founded by Joseph Sitt, intends to shut it down in the fall to make room for a total overhaul of the area.

The owner of Astroland, Carol Hill Albert, who also owns the Cyclone roller coaster, sold the site to Thor in the fall for $30 million, property records indicate, a deal she said she was reluctant to make. "I couldn't risk going out of business," she said, contending that years of anticipated construction on Thor's property presented a large obstacle.

Ms. Albert, whose family has owned Astroland for all 40 years of its existence, said there were too many bureaucratic obstacles to year-round amusements on her site. "I think Joe Sitt has been taking all the city's attention and energy," she said.

A spokesman for the city's Economic Development Corporation, Andrew Brent, denied that preferential treatment was given to any developer and said the city was surprised when Ms. Albert sold the Astroland site to Thor last fall.

While the final season at Astroland may not signify the last chapter in the tale of Coney Island, it represents the end of a volume in the amusement hub's storied anthology. In place of the usual small-scale rides and game booths common in Coney Island history, there likely will be large parcels of amusements owned by a single operator, the executive director of the Coney Island History Project, Charles Denson, said.

The president of the nonprofit Coney Island USA, Richard Zigun, said that while he was disappointed with Astroland's closing, a large developer could be very beneficial for the area's revitalization efforts.

"The idea of assembling a 10-acre package for one developer to do lots of rides is a good thing," he said. But, like a growing chorus of area opponents, he is displeased with Thor's insistence on building residential units in the heart of the amusement district.

When Thor started buying land to develop new amusements a few years ago, the community, long awaiting a rebirth, reacted with excitement, Ms. Albert said.

As it became clear that Thor wanted nearly 1,000 residential units inside the district, opposition mounted, Ms. Albert said, adding that her financial analyses show that amusements are viable without condos.

"You could make money year-round in the amusement business in Coney Island by building a hotel or hotels instead of condos," she said.

Opponents of Thor's apartment proposal will conduct a protest at City Hall Friday.

A spokesman for Thor, Lee Silberstein, said the company is still discussing the plan with the city.
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