The Coney Island waterfront became home to Joe Sitt’s latest “development” — and now freaks and sunbathers alike can get a box of “Tide” without having to visit a supermarket.
Many folks who ventured to Coney Island Saturday to see how Sitt’s new outdoor market, BK Festival, compared to his failed 2009 flea had the same conclusion: it’s better, but is not the best use for the vacant Stillwell Avenue lots.
“I still wish this was a full-fledged amusement area, but I was pleasantly surprised by this flea,” said Dick Zigun, who runs the all-year-round Coney Island Sideshows by the Seashore. “I’m glad the property is cleaned up and being used for something.”
The fair, which opened on Saturday, featured carnival games, pony rides, food booths and more than l00 clothes and jewelry vendors on the two football field-sized lots between Surf Avenue and the Boardwalk owned by Sitt’s company, Thor Equities. The bazaar was much more bustling than Sitt’s Festival by the Sea, which operated on W. 10th Street and Surf Avenue two summers ago but failed to open the 25 rides it had originally promised and disappointed locals with its cheap offerings.
“This is 100 times better than the first flea,” said a Coney Island resident who declined to give his name. “I never saw more than a few merchants at the old market.”
But some insisted that the lots should house things like bowling alleys, movie theaters and restaurants — not an outdoor fair that will end in October. The lots’ zoning permits a temporary fair ground, but that usage doesn’t gel with the city’s vision for a glitzy Coney Island that thrives even after it gets cold. Coney enthusiasts who were disappointed with the BK Festival pointed to the several shoddy booths hawking discount cleaning supplies.
“This second-rate flea market is a horrible use of space!” said Lindsay, who declined to give her last name. “I wouldn’t buy anything from here because I don’t need toothpaste.”
But the manager whom Sitt booked to run the BK Festival says that the new fair is as good as it gets.
“These lots used to be dismal but now we’re breathing life into them,” said Joey Green, BK Festival manager. “Nothing here is second-hand.”
Green added that in the coming weeks he will bring in carnival rides, including water slides.
The BK Festival is far less controversial than Sitt’s other projects, which involved more disappointment than development. For instance, in the summer of 2008, Sitt’s self-described “Summer of Hope” carnival turned into the “Summer of Nope” when the carnies packed up early. That same season, Astroland closed because of a contract dispute with longtime operator Carol Albert.
And in November 2009, the city bought seven acres of property that Sitt had owned since 2005 to pursue Mayor Bloomberg’s redevelopment vision. Buying out Sitt was a key component of the Bloomberg administration’s plan to jump-start the long-stalled renaissance of Coney Island.
Sitt had his own vision of a $2-billion, 365-day-a-year Xanadu with hotels, malls, new rides and indoor attractions, but city officials refused to discuss him the zoning change he would need for the dream to come true.
Sitt still owns five acres of Coney, but has never built anything. The BK Festival is set for a single-season run, though there’s no word yet on if Sitt is planning something more permanent than an outdoor flea for the Stillwell Avenue lots, according to his spokesman Stefan Friedman.