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Stakeholders react to Coney bombshell

Coney Island stakeholders are wondering this week just how much they stand to gain and how much they’re likely to lose now that the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) has decided to modify its proposal to rezone Coney Island.

Lynn Kelly, EDC vice-president for Special Projects, said in a letter last week that the decision to reduce the amount of mapped parkland inside the amusement district from 16 acres to nine and give existing landowners an opportunity to develop their properties would strengthen the redevelopment plan and “move this critically important project toward completion.”

But no one appears to be ready to hop on board just yet.

“I am not happy,” said Dick Zigun, Coney Island USA artistic director. “I think we’ve already had a compromise of a compromise.”

Zigun, and other advocates like him who favor rides and amusements over hotels and condos, fears that further concessions could render Coney Island’s amusement district to a “token presence” inside an otherwise unremarkable yuppie development.

“Coney Island needs something unique,” Zigun said. “Generic shopping malls suck.”

Diana Carlin, roller rink impresario and owner of the Lola Staar Souvenir Boutique on the boardwalk, expressed similar misgivings about the way the EDC is tinkering with the redevelopment framework.

“Things looked so positive a month ago,” she said. “Initially, the entire area from the boardwalk to Surf Avenue was supposed to be amusements. Now the concessions are being taken even further. They’re in a rush and they shouldn’t rush it.”

The revised plans now reduce designated parkland devoted to outdoor amusements to an area stretching between West 16th Street and the Cyclone roller coaster on West 8th Street, and the Boardwalk to the Bowery.

Thor Equities and its principal, Joe Sitt, are treating the so-called modest adjustments to the EDC’s rezoning proposal as a “jumping-off point.”

“It’s a plan the city put forward and we’re cautiously optimistic about it,” Thor spokesperson Stefan Friedman said. “We’ll study the plans quickly and studiously and then we’ll go from there.”

The new plan allows Thor Equities, which currently owns about 10 acres of the amusement area, to possibly develop 125,000 square feet for indoor amusements, which could include a hotel, water park, movie theater and bowling alley.

Originally, the city wanted to designate about 355,000 square feet of Thor’s property as parkland, but under the modified plan reduced that figure to 230,000 square feet, leaving Sitt to develop the rest for indoor use.

Zigun, who is also a member of the Coney Island Development Corporation, said that he wants to know more about density and retail use.

“I am personally pushing very hard to get the city to restore entertainment retail on the ground floor of Coney North and Coney West,” he said.

Advocates for greater amusements remain dubious that developers like Sitt won’t still try to sneak in condominiums on top of the amusement district.

“I can’t imagine who would want to live in an area where different people are coming in every night and there’s late-night activity every night,” said Michael Sarrel, owner of Ruby’s Bar & Grill on the boardwalk. “Who are they going to sell to?”

Like Astroland, Ruby’s days on the boardwalk in Coney Island are numbered, but the proprietor of the venerable watering hole says he’s still in favor of redevelopment.

“The amusement district has been chipped away at forever,” Sarrel said. “From my perspective, Coney Island needs to have redevelopment, but it needs to take place within the idea of what Coney Island can be and what Coney Island was. As long as that happens, I’ll be fine with it.”

As an independent small business owner, Carlin says that entrepreneurs like her and her neighbor Sarrel should have an opportunity to be part of the redeveloped Coney Island.

“Traditionally, Coney Island has been a business opportunity for everyone,” she said. “It can’t just be a big corporation. We need smaller operators too.”

Carlin, who has already helped organize other events to promote efforts to safeguard the amusement district, said future demonstrations might be needed to advocate for Coney Island rides and attractions.

“Nobody took or gave any land yet,” City Councilmember Domenic Recchia said in response to the EDC’s modifications. “This is all on the table and nobody came to an agreement yet.”

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