City officials say their revised vision for Coney Island, which includes new attractions, hotels and retail alongside a downsized amusement park, must win over skeptical elected officials and private landowners — or else.
“Whether we make a deal or not, we’re going forward with this plan,” Madelyn Wils, executive vice president of the city Economic Development Corporation told The Brooklyn Paper, saying the city would begin the land-use review process this year to get the area rezoned and, if necessary, seize whatever land it needs via eminent domain.
The Bloomberg Administration’s original proposal, unveiled in November, went down about as smoothly as a saber in a rookie sword-swallower’s throat for local property owners, who would have been forced to sell their land to the city, which envisioned a 15-acre theme park between Keyspan Park and the New York Aquarium and including the landmark Cyclone roller coaster and Wonder Wheel.
But under the new plan for “the People’s Playground,” the city-owned amusement park would shrink to nine acres, allowing for more privately operated restaurants and entertainment on both sides of Surf Avenue.
Landowners within the proposed amusement park — notably developer Joe Sitt, who still clings to a vision of a $1.5-billion Vegas-style indoor-outdoor theme park on his vast Coney holdings — would still be bought out by the city, but they would be allowed to develop their remaining land into year-round attractions like bowling alleys, arcades, movies theaters, and hotels.
City officials hope the revision will break the logjam with property owners like Sitt’s Thor Equities.
“We’ve done as much as we possibly can do to address most of Thor’s interests,” said Wils. “We’ve extended the fig leaf as far as it can go.”
Thor — which is known for developing shopping malls — thinks this is a good starting point for negotiations.
“We’re cautiously optimistic,” Stefan Friedman, a spokesman for Sitt, said in a statement. “We now look forward to … working together to complete a plan that serves as an economic engine for the area while maintaining Coney Island’s iconic character”
Thor ate up plots of land between West Eighth and West 15th streets in recent years like they were Nathan’s hot dogs. Their deals included buying the land under Astroland amusement park, which is slated to close at the end of this season.
Under the new city plan, Sitt’s company would have to sell more than half of its recent purchases to the city because they lie within the nine-acre park. If not, presumably the city would seek to take the land through eminent domain and bring in an outside company to build and operate the amusement park.
City officials have met with European theme park operators like Tivoli Gardens in the past.
Councilman Domenic Recchia (D–Coney Island) has supported Thor in its opposition to the original proposal and hopes the mayor doesn’t single-handedly force a project on the neighborhood.
“In a negotiation like this, when you have so many landowners and so much property, you have to bring both sides to the tables and reach a compromise,” said Rob Hart, the councilman’s spokesperson. “Right now, it feels like we’re getting closer to where we need to be.”
Despite the changes to the November plan, the new revision leaves unaltered a plan for thousands of apartments and 460,000 square feet of retail space to the north and west of the amusement and entertainment sector.