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Old Posted Aug 26, 2007, 12:45 PM
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Sands of time catch up to Coney Island

Parachute Jump, 1952

August 26th 2007

Thanks for the memories, Coney Island.

As city officials and private developers embark on what may be the biggest change to hit Coney Island since the Dreamland inferno of 1911, beach bums and amusement park buffs are flocking to the seaside resort to bid farewell.

When the season ends Sept. 9, the legendary Astroland amusement park will offer its final twirl on the Tilt-a-Whirl, its last dip on the Pirate Ship and a farewell plunge on the Water Flume.

Boardwalk favorites like Ruby's, Lola Staar and Cha-cha's also will be shuttered. Critics worry that redevelopment plans will take years or fall through entirely, leaving the strip looking more like a ghost town than an amusement oasis.

"Everyone is realizing what they love about Coney Island and coming down to embrace it before it changes and becomes something else," said Dianna Carlin, who owns the gift shop and clothing boutique Lola Staar. "It's sad, actually."

Megadeveloper Thor Equities and its president Joe Sitt envision hotels, entertainment venues and amusement parks in a new Coney Island that draws crowds year-round.

The success of that vision — as well as another plan to build mostly luxury housing by developer Taconic Investment Partners — hinges on a city zoning overhaul expected to be released in September.

The city has never been thrilled with Thor's Las Vegas-style vision. Earlier this month, a high-ranking city official told The News, "Thor's proposal is dead in the water."

Thor has scooped up property on the Boardwalk, Stillwell Ave. and elsewhere in Coney Island and claims it will bring in new businesses.

Critics of the $1.5 billion plan believe the Boardwalk storefronts could stay vacant for years if city officials and Thor can't agree on how best to redevelop the beachfront area.

"What's strange is Coney Island has always had this sense of anarchy and now here's somebody who's trying to sterilize and impose a vision of retail-tainment," said Coney Island historian Charles Denson. "Sitt's not an evil guy. But this is his vision and the worst thing to have in Coney Island is one person's singular vision."

As the city and Thor negotiate the future of Coney Island, many beachgoers are busy looking to the past.

Since 2004, Denson has been recording the memories of Coney Island fans young and old — and already he's collected the stories of nearly 300 people.

"I think people revisit places where they've had unusual experiences," said Denson of the interest in his Coney Island History Project. "There's a Coney Island saying, ‘If you get sand in your shoes you can never get it out.' These people, I think, have sand in their shoes."

Even with big changes in store for Coney Island, many business and civic leaders in the area insist the summer of 2007 won't be the neighborhood's last.

Deno's Wonder Wheel owner Dennis Vourderis said attendance at his park is up this season, but might not be next year if people wrongly believe Coney Island is grinding to a halt.

The New York Aquarium, minor-league baseball, the Cyclone, Nathan's Famous and Deno's all will be open next year, as will other Boardwalk attractions, Vourderis insisted.

"We aren't going anywhere," said Vourderis, echoing others who intend to stay put for the foreseeable future. "It may be a different vision, but it will always be Coney Island."
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.
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