Let there be life!
A last-minute deal will reopen Dreamland amusement park in Coney Island for Labor Day weekend, as landlord Joe Sitt and his tenant, the park operator, put aside their dispute about unpaid rent that shut down the rides on Aug. 21.
Sitt padlocked the gates when Anthony Raffaelle’s debt to Sitt’s company, Thor Equities, piled up to more than $500,000, but relented when Councilman Domenic Recchia (D–Coney Island) brokered a deal.
“Thor Equities is thrilled that Coney Island residents and visitors — particularly kids who start school next week — will get one final taste of summer fun at Dreamland over Labor Day,” said Stefan Friedman, a spokesman for Thor.
Recchia, who denounced Sitt in the Daily News recently as “a heartless person who only cares about money,” was happy to announce that the unsettled dispute would not interfere with the traditional end of the summer season.
“We’re expecting great weather and big crowds, so it’s important for Dreamland to be open,” said Recchia.
In addition to Sitt’s park on West 10th Street and Surf Avenue, other attractions will be open to the public, including the Cyclone roller coaster, Deno’s Wonder Wheel theme park and the Ringling Brothers circus.
Recchia helped accomplish what Raffaelle could not do in court — get Sitt to unlock the gates.
Raffaelle, who admits he owes Sitt the money, failed twice to get a judge to reopen Dreamland on the grounds that Sitt’s lockout was illegal.
The judge put off the case until Friday, Sept. 18, making it unlikely that the amusement park on the grounds of the old Astroland would reopen at all.
“It’s so late in the season, if they had beef with me, now is not the time,” he said after the closure.
Indeed, Coney Island Circus Sideshow operator Dick Zigun, agreed with Raffaelle.
“Whether or not rent was owed, you don’t have the right to act like a bully,” said Zigun, whose iconic stature in Coney Island was affirmed last week when The Brooklyn Paper highlighted his side job as “Mayor of Coney Island.”
Sitt disagreed with both Raffaelle and Zigun, saying that he, not Raffaelle, or the kids being turned away from the once-thriving amusement area, is the victim here.
“Dreamland has not come close to meeting its financial obligations in many months,” said Friedman.
“We are hopeful that Dreamland will soon pay its rent [and] re-open.”
Raffaelle has long been a behind-the-scenes presence in Coney Island. He ran Sitt’s attractions that also closed early last year. This year he planned to be on the Astroland site with Ringling Bros, but when Sitt’s negotiations with Ringling broke down, Sitt made him take the whole lot, he said.
Last weekend when it appeared almost certain that the park would stay closed, he and his workers remained angry about the shutdown.
“We just showed up for work and couldn’t get in,” said Lori Vise, who worked at Dreamland. “It’s not fair for the visitors of Coney Island. We want it back open.”
Dreamland sits on what was the Space Age-themed park, which closed because of a lease disagreement with the land’s former owner, Carol Albert. Albert had sold the land to Sitt two years earlier, but continued to operate the amusement park on the site until last year.
The last day to visit Dreamland will be Labor Day.