View Single Post
Old Posted Jun 18, 2007, 12:06 PM
NYguy's Avatar
NYguy NYguy is offline
New Yorker for life
Join Date: Jul 2001
Location: Borough of Jersey
Posts: 44,785

Coney Island Plan Is Scaled Back, but Critics Are Skeptical

An artist’s rendering of an aerial view of Surf Avenue at Coney Island under a new plan for a renovated amusement complex there.

The developer Joseph J. Sitt’s $1.5 billion plan for Coney Island includes a pulsating amusement area and three hotels, with architecture that invokes the old Luna Park and Dreamland.

June 18, 2007

The developer who wants to remake Coney Island’s amusement district has a new plan and says that you’re going to love it.

Joseph J. Sitt, who says his company has spent $120 million buying up land underneath and around the rides, said on Friday that he had “rolled over” in response to the criticism of his earlier plans for an entertainment and residential complex.

So the looming 40-story tower planned for the Boardwalk at Stillwell Avenue is gone. So are the hundreds of rental apartments and luxury condominiums in the old plan.
The new proposal is less dense, he said, but has more of “the new, the edgy, and the outlandish” rides and attractions that America’s first resort was once known for.

“This is our way of showing the New York community that we’re responsive to what they want,” said Mr. Sitt, the founder and chief executive of Thor Equities, which buys and develops commercial, residential and retail properties nationwide. “Our design, in all its greatness, is a way of showing the world what Coney Island can be.”

Who could complain?


Robert Lieber, president of the city’s Economic Development Corporation, described Mr. Sitt’s new plan as a “wolf dressed up as a sheep.” Mr. Lieber, along with neighborhood leaders and other city officials, had expressed fears that residents of new apartment buildings would not fit comfortably with the noisy, all-hours amusement district that would be preserved between West Eighth Street and the Aquarium and the minor league baseball stadium at West 16th Street.

The new plan keeps the concept of a new glass-enclosed water park, but instead of apartments calls for three hotels, including more than 400 time-share units, along with restaurants, shops, movie theaters and high-tech arcades. The latest renderings depict a pulsating entertainment complex with an Elephant Colossus statue and architecture that evokes the old Luna Park and Dreamland amusement parks.

Mr. Lieber and others say that the time-share units look an awful lot like apartments and that the complex looks more like a mall than Coney Island.

“He came in last week and presented a plan that had essentially the same density, but dressed it up with hotels and time shares,” Mr. Lieber said on Friday. “The building heights still exceed the 271-foot Parachute Jump,” a Coney Island landmark. “And he’s looking for a huge subsidy from the city. North of $100 million.”

The city has been working with local residents and property owners for nearly three years on a master plan for what everyone agrees is a dowdy area. The idea, they say, is to preserve the democratic, open-air quality of Coney Island’s culture and amusement district on the south side of Surf Avenue, while allowing for high-rise residential and retail development set apart from the rides, on the north side of Surf.

The Economic Development Corporation, along with the City Planning Department and the Coney Island Development Corporation, have been devising a rezoning proposal for Coney Island that will go through a public review process later this year.

“The community and the Coney Island Development Corporation have all indicated that residential and amusements don’t go together,” said Chuck Reichenthal, district manager of Community Board 13.

But Mr. Sitt says he believes the changes being proposed are too restrictive and would undercut his ability to redevelop the area.

Everyone agrees that the shrunken hulk of the amusement district is worth preserving, at the edge of a beach that still draws tens of thousands of people on the summer weekends. The question is how to turn it into a year-round attraction.

“Coney Island has changed its faces many times,” Mr. Reichenthal said. “The last Luna Park was in the mid-1940s. Steeplechase came down in the ’60s. But that doesn’t mean that it hasn’t remained a magnet. There’s a lot to do when people come down here. It’s still the place for people who don’t have a huge amount of money in their pocket to come and have a good time.”

Mr. Sitt, who is equal parts real estate entrepreneur and supersalesman, has been engaged in a game of chicken with the city over the future of Coney Island. Earlier this year, his team claimed that his project “isn’t a financially feasible investment” without high-rise housing. Over the winter, he knocked down the batting cages and the go-kart park in a move that harked back to the bad old days of empty lots.

Now he has taken the housing, at least all the units labeled apartments, out of his proposal, and he is betting that his new $1.5 billion plan will win the overwhelming support of local residents, if not all the officials at City Hall. The hotels, which range from 25 to 32 stories, have been moved to midblock, away from the Boardwalk.

Mr. Sitt has already spent a large sum buying up 10 acres behind the Nathan’s Famous hot dog stand from 30 different families, including the descendants of George C. Tilyou, founder of Steeplechase Park, and the owners of Astroland, an amusement park that embraces the 270-foot Astro Tower. Astroland is scheduled to close in September. The Cyclone roller coaster, which is a city landmark, will remain open.

Hear his pitch:

The hotels, Mr. Sitt said, would offer black residents not only jobs, but careers. The Russian immigrants, who enjoy a “quality of life and activity by the water,” would flock to the hotels and nightclubs. Jewish and Italian-American residents would get the “quality retail, bookstores and entertainment venues” that they want. As for everyone else, “what’s better than having fabulous restaurants, catering halls, shows and concerts?”

“Tell me, what issue any one of these constituencies would have with our plan,” he said. “We’re asking for motherhood, motherhood. Apple pie, Chevrolet and Coney Island.”

Pause for breath.

“Maybe I sound like a salesman,” Mr. Sitt said, “but I’m passionate about this.”

Jeff Persily, who has worked in the amusement district since 1960 and owns a penny arcade and other property on Bowery Street, agrees with the notion that the amusement area must be turned into a year-round attraction to survive. The city needs to change the zoning to allow for larger buildings, hotels, apartments, parking and retail, he said.

“They have a vision of open-air amusements,” Mr. Persily said. “We can’t afford to spend millions on new rides and only be open three months of the year.”

Would he sell out to Mr. Sitt? “At the end of the day, combining all the properties and building amusements, hotels and residential would be a wonderful thing for New York,” he said. “We’re talking about creating not hundreds of jobs but many thousands of jobs. I love Coney Island. I’d love to see it become what it once was when I was a kid.”

But not everyone trusts Mr. Sitt to deliver. They are concerned that he would convert his time-share units to apartments or flip the property to another developer who would change the plans.

Charles Denson, who grew up in Coney Island and now heads the Coney Island History Project, is fond of saying that Mr. Sitt could be a hero by saving the amusement district. But he said residential towers would overwhelm the amusements and “a big shopping mall is not Coney Island.”

The history project is running a show in the museum underneath the Cyclone roller coaster titled “Land Grab.” It depicts the development of Coney Island since the 1800s through aerial photographs.

“It’s the last ungentrified place in New York,” Mr. Denson said. “It’s still a poor man’s paradise. There’s something magical about it, the name, the reputation and the history.”
NEW YORK heals.

“Office buildings are our factories – whether for tech, creative or traditional industries we must continue to grow our modern factories to create new jobs,” said United States Senator Chuck Schumer.
Reply With Quote