Coney Island surf should remain working people’s turf
The city’s latest plans to “save” Coney Island – the land of dreams and schemes at the southern tip of Brooklyn – once again threaten to destroy it.
That is why I recently wrote Mayor Bloomberg telling him I plan to resign as a director of the Coney Island Development Corp. (CIDC) effective Tuesday, when the city will present its latest plan supposedly designed to transform the area into a year-round attraction. Plunking 30-story hotels onto land that should offer bumper cars and other amusements is not the way to save the city’s “working man’s Riviera.”
As everyone in Brooklyn knows, I am the permanently unelected Mayor of Coney Island and, therefore, a phony politician. As an operator of the Coney Island USA museum and sideshow, I am no more than a spokesman and advocate for a shrinking amusement industry that has persevered despite decades of municipal neglect and hostility.
Coney Island has been smothered by good intentions emanating from City Hall, perhaps never more dramatically than in the 1960s when the city tore down most of the dilapidated structures along Surf and Mermaid Aves. but never quite got around to the rebuilding part. There have been so many plans for Coney Island’s future that the paper they were printed on would reach higher than the horses atop Steeplechase Park – if Steeplechase had not been torn down as part of one of those plans.
But when Mayor Bloomberg turned his eyes to Coney Island’s future and assigned the CIDC to develop a master plan, I thought that this time things would get better. I was wrong.
Thor Equities, led by a shopping mall magnate with no experience in amusements, had bought most of the property currently zoned for amusements, including Astroland Park. Thor proposed high-rise hotels, apartments and commercial establishments for land where rides now sit. Since that would have gutted the amusement area’s future, outrage echoed from Coney Island to City Hall, and Thor was forced to back off.
The CIDC developed its own master plan. Four years of public hearings and hard negotiating led to a plan that didn’t make everyone happy, but protected the core amusement area.
That plan directed most high-rise development west of KeySpan Park and north of Surf Ave., allowing one high-rise east of KeySpan where the Thunderbolt roller coaster once stood, and across from Nathan’s.
That was a bitter pill for many locals, including myself, but it was accepted as the most realistic compromise.
Then suddenly, the city presented a new plan with no hearings, no public input and not even an opportunity for directors of the CIDC to discuss it. The new plan, the focus of the June 24 hearing at 6 p.m. at Lincoln High School, would allow four hotel towers south of Surf Ave. in the amusement area, including one that would block the view of the landmarked Wonder Wheel from the subway.
It’s awkward for me to criticize a plan pushed by some of the same people who have supported our own nonprofit activities, but right is right. We’ve been told that it’s this or nothing.
One way to illustrate the changes is the proposed fate of the 48 acres in the current amusement core, including 34 acres which now sit vacant. The original CIDC plan would have expanded amusements by an acre, and allowed hotel and entertainment retail on another 35. The new plan cuts 5 acres out of outdoor amusements, and sets aside 6 more for hotels and entertainment retail.
Neighborhood leaders have embraced making Coney Island a year-round destination to draw visitors in the winter months. But shopping and hotels are not amusements and will not be a draw. I may be a phony politician, but even real politicians ought to be able to figure out that the lure of Coney Island will never be NikeTown and a 30-story hotel.
If the city gets its way, it won’t be Coney Island anymore. And if we lose Coney Island now, it will be gone forever. That is why I oppose this plan.
By Dick Zigun
NY Daily News - Opinion
Zigun is the founder and director of Coney Island USA.