Borough President Markowitz wants the city to plunk down $2 million to outfit Coney Island’s historic Parachute Jump with enough lights to make it visible from orbit, but amusement ride enthusiasts say he should put the money into something more important — fulfilling his 2008 promise to update and reopen the 73-year-old icon.
“For a few million dollars I could have hired some engineers and gotten the thing up and running,” said Walter Reiss, an amusement industry expert and former theme park operator said.
Rob Burnstein, president of Coney-Brighton Boardwalk Alliance, agreed.
“It’s sad that for so long the Parachute Jump has been closed,” Burnstein said. “It would suit Coney Island much better if the money was spent to make the ride operable again.”
But Markowitz currently has no plans to retrofit the Parachute Jump. Instead, he wants to make it one of the most expensive light fixtures in history.
“We’ll relight the Parachute Jump with enough bling so it can be seen from outer space,” Markowitz — who will be term-limited out of Borough Hall at the end of 2013 — promised during his annual State of the Borough address on Feb. 1. “I know that this will be done before I leave office.”
It’s a reversal from 2008 — the last time the Giants beat the New England Patriots — when Markowitz told State of the Borough attendees that it was his “dream” to “make the parachute jump ride operational once more.”
“If the Giants can beat the Patriots, there’s no reason we can’t ride the parachute in this new century!” he said.
But, today, Markowitz says he would be happy just to see the Parachute Jump lit up.
“I would be thrilled to see it restored to its original, fully functioning form,” he told us. “Unfortunately, it is currently financially and technologically infeasible. I hope that changes, but in the meantime I can’t wait until the Parachute Jump is ‘blinged out.’”
The Economic Development Corporation, the city agency in charge of funding the lighting project, is backing Markowitz’s plans, and is poised to issue a request for bids from companies interested in installing lights on the dark and defunct — but landmarked — 262-foot tower next month, agency spokesman Kyle Sklerov said.
But illuminating the Parachute Jump is becoming a pricey endeavor: the $2 million Markowitz has earmarked will bring its lighting bill to a staggering $3.4 million.
In 2006, the city tapped designer Leri Schwendinger to install a $1.4 million lighting system consisting of 17 lamps and 150 lighting fixtures that kept the ride illuminated on summer nights.
Two years later, Markowitz convinced Mayor Bloomberg and the City Council to set aside an additional $2 million to redo the lighting system more to his liking, after complaining that it wasn’t bright enough to suit the People’s Playground, which is in the process of being transformed into a glitzy, year-round destination.
That money hasn’t been spent, but the city has extinguished Schwendinger’s light display — except for several blinking red lights — in preparation for the overhaul.
Yet some agree with Markowitz — refurbishing the ride might not be worth it. If Brooklyn wants a drop tower ride, they should get a new one, amusement industry expert Ed Pribonic explained.
“You can buy a standard drop tower for $3 million,” Pribonic said, adding that a drop tower with all the bells and whistles could cost up to $7 million.
Still, Coney Island residents said a more pimped out Parachute Jump would be in keeping with the neighborhood’s character.
“Coney Island is not the place for subtlety,” said Dick Zigun, the man behind Sideshows by the Seashore. “Marty’s right to want something flashier.”
The parachute jump was built for the 1939 World’s Fair and relocated to Coney Island two years later. For 40 cents, visitors plummeted for 15 seconds from the top of the tower to the ground below.
The tower closed in 1965, and was declared a city landmark in 1988.