NY rides to Coney Island’s aid
Michael Bloomberg, narrowly elected this month for a third term as New York’s mayor, is to sign a $95.6m cheque on the city’s behalf to ensure the future of the mother of all fairground resorts at Coney Island.
Coney Island awaits wheel of fortune’s turn – Sep-11In what he described as a “win-win-win” situation, the mayor announced a deal with Joseph Sitt, a New York developer, to buy just less than seven acres of the rundown neighbourhood for redevelopment as a world-class entertainment district.
With New York facing a $5bn (€3.4bn, £3bn) deficit this year, The New York Times newspaper described the price tag of $300 per square foot as “a huge amount in the current market”.
Mr Bloomberg nevertheless appeared to have scored a populist point by coming to the rescue of a downmarket district of a city severely hit by the effects of the financial crisis.
Even campaigners who had attacked the city’s neglect of the oldest seaside destination in the US welcomed the deal as a first step towards the resort’s revival. Coney Island predates Florida and California as an entertainment destination and provided a model for popular resorts before the era of mass tourism.
The deal announced this week ended a four-year stand-off between the city and Mr Sitt, head of Thor Equities, who spent $140m accumulating property in the neighbourhood.
Mr Sitt would not comment on the financial aspects of the deal but he told the Financial Times: “At a certain point the mayor and I realised we would have to partner up on this. This is good for New York City and it’s good for the United States of America.”
The city changed the zoning for Coney Island this year to allow for the construction of multi-storey hotels, shopping centres and residential units looking out on the Atlantic Ocean. Mr Sitt said he planned to use acreage that he still owned to develop hotels and retail units under the city’s rezoning plan. Mr Bloomberg, an independent, won a third term as mayor this month on a sharply reduced majority after backers of his Democratic rival accused New York’s richest man of being the candidate of Wall Street.
He has been forced to shelve other projects to develop New York as a tourism and convention destination in the face of dwindling revenue and opposition from the New York state assembly.
By riding to the rescue of the “People’s Playground”, however, he has bid for some early goodwill for his third term.
However, campaigners and local entertainers who kept the neighbourhood alive during decades of planning blight are reserving judgment.
They would have preferred to see Mr Sitt’s holdings bought outright.
“Unless the city purchases the rest of Thor Equities’ land, a large portion of the amusement area will remain subject to the whims of real estate speculation and the future of Coney Island will remain at risk,” said Juan Rivero, a spokesman of the Save Coney Island campaign.
By Harvey Morris in New York