A two-hour face-to-face meeting with the borough president has not tempered Mendy Sontag’s opposition to Borough President Marty Markowitz’s plan to construct a $64 million amphitheater at Asser Levy Park.
“I think we have to go after him hook and ladder and we can’t stop,” the president of the Sea Breeze Jewish Center told this newspaper.
Sontag’s meeting with the borough president at his downtown Brooklyn office came earlier this month following a raucous Community Board 13 Parks Committee meeting held at the New York Aquarium on May 21 in which the borough president was roundly denounced for pushing a plan that opponents maintain will destroy their community with traffic, noise, crime and pollution.
Markowitz believes his proposed new amphitheater will rival other popular music venues like the Westbury Music Fair and become the glittering new gateway to a reinvigorated Coney Island.
“This is my dream,” Markowitz reportedly told Sontag.
“I asked him to look in the mirror and consider that this might be the wrong place, at the wrong time, in the wrong economy,” Sontag said. “You want to bring Coney Island to Ocean Parkway. You’re making a huge mistake.”
Residents living in the apartment buildings around Asser Levy Park - located at Sea Breeze Avenue and Ocean Parkway - insist that they live in a “bedroom community” and should not be thought of as part of Coney Island’s entertainment center.
“The last time I slept on the beach was when I was in the Army. I sleep in a bedroom,” said Al Turk, president of Temple Beth Abraham.
Markowitz has further angered the leadership of both Temple Beth Abraham and the Sea Breeze Jewish Center by suggesting that the bandshell at Asser Levy Park predates the establishment of the houses of worship located just across the street.
“For him to say they were there before us is ridiculous,” Turk said.
The Parks Department says that the bandshell was built sometime in the 1950s. Temple Beth Abraham was established in 1965, but Sontag says that the Sea Breeze Jewish Center has a history that goes back 100 years when an earlier congregation was known as Gemilath Chesed/Anshe Emmeth.
Despite Sontag’s meeting with Markowitz and a subsequent private meeting with City Councilmember Domenic Recchia, opponents of the amphitheater charge that both elected officials, as well as Assemblymember Alec Brook-Krasny and State Senator Carl Kruger, have been unresponsive to community concerns.
“They’re not going to help because they’re Marty’s puppets,” said a staffer at Temple Beth Abraham that did not want to be identified.
Kruger could not be reached for comment, but Brook-Krasny said that he is in favor of“one big comprehensive plan for Coney Island” and that the people who live around Asser Levy Park are a part of that.
“They are definitely part of Coney Island,” the assemblyman said. “We have to think about the big picture - it’s one piece.”
The assemblyman representing the 46th District, however, doesn’t think it’s a good idea for a private promoter to one day take over the Seaside Summer Concert Series from Markowitz.
“I don’t think a private promoter is a good idea,” Brook-Krasny said. “I think the concerts should stay in public hands.”
The assemblyman also said that he’d like to see the borough president “come to the area and speak to the people.”
“There are many unanswered questions,” he said.
In both meetings with Markowitz and Recchia, Sontag says that the idea of inviting community activist Ida Sanoff - one of the driving forces behind the opposition - was expressly rejected.
“I don’t know why they’re so afraid of a short, fat, middle-aged housewife from Brighton beach,” Sanoff said.
Borough Hall communications director Laura Sinagra characterized Markowitz’s meeting with the president of the Sea Breeze Jewish Center as “just a meeting to listen.”
“All along the goal has been to work with the community,” Sinagra said. “We will continue to listen to the community and there will be follow-up discussions.”
It’s unclear if Markowitz will attend the next meeting of Community Board 13 on June 24.
Recchia, who complained that “a number of people are misinformed” about the proposed project, was also non-committal when asked if he planned to attend.
“This has been going on for a number of years,” he said. “There have been many hearings on it.”
The New York City Department of Parks & Recreations periodically inspects city green spots. Last November, the Parks Deaprtment found overall conditions at Asser Levy “unacceptable” with the park’s lawns, benches, fences and sidewalks getting failing grades. Prior to that, overall conditions at Asser Levy Park were determined to be “acceptable” going all the way back to November 2001.