Coney took a bad turn as overdoses of urban renewal set in on its streets. It was precipitated by the demolitions of slum areas in eastern Coney, across Ocean Parkway from Brighton Beach, then also suffering a downturn, with many emptied homes. Coney Island took on the brunt of the helpless, who were deemed homeless as their units were demolishedto make way for both Trump Village and Warbasse Houses.
The Trump team found relocations in almost uninhabited Coney bungalows or piled families into once two-family homes now overloaded with Trump area evictees. That is when the Boardwalk took its turn to decay as Coney’s crime increased. The streets took to violence with discontent and disorder created as a result of the death ofMartin Luther King, Jr. — violence Coney shared with city’s like Los Angeles and Detroit.
In the cooling period, with many hot towns still smoldering, stimulus was vital to offer hope. Here in Coney, Borough President Abe Stark offered to build a novel ice-skating building at distant W. 23rd Street and Surf Avenue, five blocks from the amusement zone, adding additional demolition costs to the city.
We tried to persuade Stark at a sit-down to consider a different plan, but he was steadfast in his ways. Driving home, one of our foursome said, “You can’t fight him, he’s the boro prez.” But when we got back to our Coney stores, it was my turn to try to put a plan together, relocating this proposed center where it was properly zoned — and replacing the decayed fire-hulk of scorched Ravenhall.
We were able to piece together so many selling points of lower land prices, a location closer to rapid transit, fewer land-owners to negotiate with, and better resort zoning, but then we had to combat the resort spokesperson who defended Stark’s proposal at the hearing.
Eventually the revisions were accepted by the members of the site selection board unanimously and the final vote came in our favor. Stark congenially said, “Aye, I will make it unanimous for our city’s Site Selection board.” Very rewarded we later suggested to name it the Abe Stark Arena and Convention Center — fight when you’re right!
However, the very people who opposed the site, somehow gained political control of its operation and instead of a Boardwalk facing arena, they folded up all the chairs and piled up all the tables that had never been used.
The last time we visited that large, dark, ocean-fronting room, all the tables and chairs were stacked in disuse and the vast arena in the basement served as an infrequently active ice rink. In an area where basketball is a major neighborhood activity, where Coney kids go on to national fame, the center remained dark and unused. The only other activities since its completion circa 1969 was a Brooklyn Democratic convention and a tribute to the widow Coretta King, where she was honored during her visit to New York. Coney Island gave her a mammoth welcome with a standing-room-only full house.
Yes, oceanfront dinning could be great and the city of New York should make its Park’s Department fill the prescription it prescribed, putting its costly assets to work. Finally, after too many years, too many city dollars, and sea gulls and pigeons landing on the isolated roof, perching over that unused large dining room.