Coney Island redevelopment plan attracts 50 amusement park companies from seven countries
It’s the scramble for Coney Island.
The competition to build a new amusement park at the faded seaside mecca has reached a fever pitch as a who’s who of amusement operators work to put together proposals by a Dec. 18 deadline.
“How often do you get somebody that says [here's a] world-class location, on a beach, on a boardwalk, in the City of New York, with a world-famous brand name, Coney Island?” asked Chip Cleary, chair of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions. “This is unique.”
It was standing room only when city officials presented their request for proposals at the Las Vegas IAAPA convention last month, after sealing a deal to buy 6.9 crucial acres from developer Thor Equities for $95.6 million.
Some 50 companies from at least seven countries showed up for the information session.
“We were busy from sunup to sundown there,” said Coney Island Development Corp. president Lynn Kelly. “That really signifies that people see Coney Island not just as a nostalgic, historic location, but as a viable place to do business.”
Competition to bring back the once-grand amusement destination got so fierce that some operators reported cloak-and-dagger efforts to find out what the other guy was planning.
Jim Seay, president of Maryland-based Premier Rides, said he’s preparing a bid, but like many bidders, is keeping mum on the details so competitors don’t snatch his ideas.
“It’s like a military secrets type thing,” he said. “There’s already people going around the industry trying to figure out what’s going to be proposed.”
The intrigue is a far cry from years past, when amusement big shots had written Coney off as dead.
“Coney Island had been given this bad name of representing urban decay, cheesy, tawdry amusement parks,” said Mel McGowan of Visioneering Studios, an architecture firm that may partner with a bidder. “It sounds like there is a pretty solid will to do something now.”
High-thrill rides like the human slingshot – which launches riders 300 feet into the air at 100 miles per hour – will be the centerpiece of a likely proposal by Atlantic Pier Amusements, which runs the Steel Pier in Atlantic City, said co-owner Tony Catanoso.
And Morris Vivona of Amusements of America, which runs dozens of carnivals around the country every year, said he’d bid to come to Coney. But, he would only say his closely guarded plans would “restore Coney Island to its former glory and beyond.”
Larry Nadeo, who owns several amusement parks in Florida, touted a long-shot idea he said would set his plan apart: reopening the iconic but long-shuttered Parachute Jump. “It’s the heart. It’s everything,” he said.
Also mulling throwing a hat in the ring are Ripley Entertainment, Tivoli Gardens – whose Denmark park is among the oldest in the world – and hometown favorite Carol Albert, who ran Astroland until it closed last year.
Albert has said she’d love to bring back a new and improved Astroland, but was coy when reached for comment last week. “I’m still thinking about it,” she said.
And big-time park operators aren’t the only ones looking to get in on the action. Everyone from ride makers to ticket printers to security firms is angling to get on board with the winning bidder.
One of the wilder ideas came from Michael Womer of Gator Adventure Productions, who’s touting his live alligator show. “You always hear the stories about there’s alligators in the sewers,” he said. “Let’s make the legend true.”
A deciding factor in choosing the winner could be speed. The city wants rides up and running, on at least some of the land, by Memorial Day.
BY Erin Durkin