With the start of the New Year, the city believes it is now just a few short weeks away from certifying its rezoning plan for Coney Island with an eye toward wrapping up the entire Uniform Land Use Review Procedure by summer’s end.
But with major landowner Thor Equities making a bid for even more land, ride advocates maintaining that the Coney Island Development Corporation still needs to go back to the drawing board and boardwalk shopkeepers saying they’re going to try and hang on despite pressure to push them out, little about the future of Coney Island seems assured at the beginning of 2009.
On New Year’s day protesters rallied outside the rapidly disappearing Astroland Amusement Park to decry a redevelopment plan they say is headed in the wrong direction.
This week, the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce hosted a panel discussion at Polytech in Downtown Brooklyn with CIDC President Lynn Kelly, Department of City Planning Director Purnima Kapur and Wonder Wheel operator Dennis Vourderis to discuss the city’s efforts to assemble 27-acres of rides and entertainment in Coney Island’s amusement district.
“Rezoning will combat speculation,” Kelly said. “The timing couldn’t be more important or more perfect.”
City Councilmember Domenic Recchia - who also attended the event - wasn’t so sure. When asked if he supports the city’s efforts to designate parkland and acquire land in the Coney Island amusement district, the councilman representing the 47th District said, “We have our differences.”
Without elaborating, Recchia said that the City Council has its “own plan” and its “own vision” for the area.
“One thing though, Abe Stark has to stay,” Recchia said. “There’s no place for the hockey leagues to play.”
The councilman dismissed alternative plans for possibly constructing a new facility somewhere near the Wonder Wheel as unfeasible.
“It can’t be in front of Deno’s,” he said.
Kapur, meanwhile, said that the city remains “neutral” with respect to prospective amusement-themed developers, but cautioned major players that “zoning sets in place what’s appropriate.”
The CIDC met with about 160 of them at an International Association of Amusement Parks & Attractions expo in November.
Michael Sarrel, operator of the venerable Ruby’s Bar & Grill on the boardwalk, said that no matter what the future of Coney Island looks like, he’d like to be a part of it.
“At this point we’re trying to negotiate [with Thor Equities principal and landlord Joe Sitt],” Sarrel said. “The rents that he’s asking make it a hardship. I’m hoping that this deal will come to fruition.”
In the event that those negotiations go the way that talks between Thor and Astroland operator Carol Albert have gone, Sarrel said that he will reach out to the city and other property owners in an effort to keep Ruby’s in Coney Island - preferably on the boardwalk.
“We want to be a part of the new Coney Island,” he said.