The state of Coney Island is not strong, one of its most vocal boosters said this week.
Unlike the presidential state of the union speech, which inevitably has a rosy tinge to it, the “State of Coney” speech given Sunday by the honky-tonk neighborhood’s unofficial mayor Dick Zigun was a withering assessment of the neighborhood’s current situation and its prospects.
“I don’t like this Coney Island with the empty lots,” thundered Zigun from a podium in the Coney Island Museum.
On this one point, Zigun agreed with city officials and private developers, like Thor Equities, that want to transform the underperforming amusement area into a 24-7-365 tourist destination.
But no leader, whether elected or self-proclaimed as in Zigun’s case, can speechify without unveiling solutions. And so the founder of the Coney Island Circus Sideshow told the audience that he has seen the light and it’s in Orlando.
Zigun even said he might be willing to accept a drastic measure like a Disney-style “pay-one-price” ticket system at a gated Coney Island theme park.
“I’m trying to redo Coney Island, Orlando-style” Zigun said, having just returned from a fact-finding mission to the Mecca of rides, resorts and cartoon vermin.
What Disney World and Universal Studios have in Central Florida — and the current Bloomberg Administration proposal for redeveloping Coney Island needs, according to Zigun — is a model of “clustering” with a centerpiece attraction surrounded by secondary rides, games and concessions.
If it means abandoning the “People’s Playground” tradition of pay-as-you-go attractions, so be it.
“I’m willing to accept that you may have to pay $60 to $80 to get into it.” He added, “New Yorkers will still be able to come here for $2 and go to the beach for free.”
While Zigun shares a common goal with the Bloomberg Administration, whcih wants to redevelop the sandy peninsula into a new, city-owned, open-air theme park alongside current rides like the Cyclone and Wonder Wheel, he differs bitterly over plans to include enclosed attractions like arcades, bowling alleys and movie theaters, as well as hotels and restaurants.
The city says this will be the backbone of making the area enticing to visitors during cold-weather months, but opponents say it will backfire.
“People are not going to fly here for movies and bowling,” Zigun said, hunched over a podium.
Zigun’s other ways to improve the redevelopment plan include:
• Running a trolley along Surf Avenue.
• Building bowling alleys and arcades on the ground floors of new buildings in the residential part of Coney Island.
• Erecting piers jutting into the ocean with rides and entertainment on top of them.
On Coney Island, existing elements like the New York Aquarium, the Cyclone and Keyspan Park could be the natural nucleus of several clusters and several more should be created.
“Five or six major attractions is all it takes for a full day of fantasy,” Zigun said.
Critics say Zigun might be the one full of fantasy.
“All his ideas are to get the city to spend money, but from what I hear New York is broke,” said Jim Quivey, who flew in from Florida just to hear Zigun’s talk.
City officials would not comment on any of Zigun’s specifics.