Trying to Uphold Coney Island’s Character, City Buys Wonder Wheel Site
New York City has bought the one-acre site of the Wonder Wheel for $11 million as part of the Bloomberg administration’s plan to preserve the historic character of Coney Island, the city announced on Wednesday.
The city said that it expected to acquire additional land from local owners in the coming months.
The property joins the Cyclone roller coaster and Steeplechase Park in bringing the total of city-owned land in the area to four acres out of the nine it hopes to protect. The land would be designated as parkland, limiting further redevelopment yet allowing for recreational activities like rides and restaurants.
Much of the area is currently designated under a highly restrictive zoning category, known as C7, that permits only large amusement rides. This has contributed to the area’s decline, as many amusement properties that have closed have not been replaced or redeveloped.
The city plans to begin a seven-month rezoning process late this year or early next year. “It would be optimal to have as much support as possible,” said Seth Pinksy, president of the Economic Development Corporation, the agency that handled the negotiation for the city.
He said that by the time the process was completed, he hoped to have support “from all the local players.”
The Wonder Wheel Amusement Park property had been in contract with Thor Equities, an investment company that has clashed with the city over the future of the historic seaside district.
The deal with Thor, which has invested more than $100 million in buying up Coney Island property, fell through about three months ago, said Christopher F. McGratty, chairman of Ward Realty, owner of the site.
“We went to the closing table with everything ready,” said Mr. McGratty, who is the grandson of William J. Ward, a 19th-century Coney Island pioneer. “Thor failed to close, then they wanted to renegotiate the contract, and we couldn’t come to an agreement.”
As a result, Thor forfeited its deposit. Several weeks ago the Ward family began negotiating with the city, which bought the property for the same price that Thor had agreed to.
A Thor Equities spokesman did not immediately return a call for comment. “We have made it clear that we are very interested in doing this in a way that benefits everyone,” Mr. Pinsky said.. “I think this is an example of our ability to accomplish this.”
The city and Thor Equities, the largest landowner in the area, had been at loggerheads despite a proposed compromise by the Bloomberg administration to shrink the city-owned amusement area that would be protected in perpetuity to 9 acres from 15. “We continue to stand behind the rezoning framework,” Mr. Pinsky said. “We think it’s the right plan for Coney Island both from an amusement perspective and for the larger community.”
The chairman of Thor, Joseph J. Sitt, who grew up in nearby Gravesend, had developed his own $1.5 billion proposal for the area, which involved a much more elaborate area of amusements, stores and condominiums. In recent months, Mr. Sitt seemed willing to wait for the arrival of the next mayor, but that strategy has been complicated by Mr. Bloomberg’s attempt to seek a third term.
Mr. McGratty said that the purchase would help achieve the goal of preserving the character of Coney Island. “The family is really happy to see the city step up and maintain grandpa’s vision,” Mr. McGratty said.
By JENNIFER 8. LEE
New York Times