Coney Island is back — or is it?
Many of the People’s Playground’s attractions are due to re-open this weekend, just five months after getting swamped in Hurricane Sandy, but some Coney residents say they’ve been hung out to dry — and they’re planning to rain on the amusement area’s opening day by staging a protest in front of the Cyclone.
A group calling itself the People’s Coalition of Coney Island plans to rally on March 24 — the day Luna Park and Deno’s Wonder Wheel are set to start their season of fun — to voice their claims that the recovery effort has focused on the rides, and that the oft-repeated proclamations of Coney’s rise from the floodwaters are blatant false advertising.
Coalition founder and president Ed Cosme said he formed the group to call attention to the loss of youth and senior centers in Coney’s public housing buildings, the still out-of-order local library on Mermaid Avenue, the limited service at the W. 28th Street post office, and the 60th Precinct police stationhouse that only re-opened last week — all of which he claims have been neglected in favor of restoring the fun zone along Surf Avenue.
“A lot of people have a perception that Coney Island is just an amusement area, but people live here, and they are more important,” said Cosme, a neighborhood native best known for organizing running events along the Boardwalk.
Cosme placed much of the blame on the new Alliance for Coney Island business group, which has handled much of the recovery funding and is made up of major players in the Playground of the World — none of whom actually reside in Coney Island.
“How can they address our needs if none of their members actually live here?” Cosme said.
Dana Monroe of the Coney Island Empowered Citizens Group, a member organization of the Coalition, echoed Cosme’s complaints.
“Where is the grand opening for the post office? Where is the grand opening for the clinics here? Where is the grand opening for the youth centers?” demanded Monroe.
But Alliance spokeswoman Johanna Zaki argued her group had worked to serve residents, having funded rebuilding efforts in the neighborhood, held job fairs targetting natives for positions in the amusement district, and added Coney Island residents to its own staff. Zaki claimed that the re-opening of the attractions would help the recovery of the entire neighborhood.
“We’re happy that the amusements are opening on time even after Sandy because they’re economic engines for this community and provide jobs for people here,” said Zaki. “We understand there’s still a lot lacking as a result of Sandy, but the idea of the Alliance is to promote Coney Island as a destination and engage with the community.”
Community Board 13 member Chuck Reichenthal said he empathized with the Coalition’s concerns, but suggested that the slow rebuilding in the residential section had more to do with bureacratic confusion over funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Small Business Administration than with a disproportionate focus on the attractions.
“One day you’re told one thing, the next day it’s another. There are so many agencies working on things, it’s not clear when the funding’s coming, and people are frustrated,” Reichenthal said. “I’d like to see all the stores opening on Mermaid Avenue, I’d like to hear there are no more elevator problems, but I don’t think it’s a question of one area getting more attention than another.”Reach reporter Will Bredderman at wbredderma