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Rebuild the Thunderbolt roller coaster and invite the Big Apple Circus to establish a new home inside the Shore Theater.
Those are just two of the big ideas Dick Zigun — the permanently unelected mayor of Coney Island — says will help reestablish Coney Island once more as one of the world’s preeminent amusement park destinations.
Zigun recently returned from a fact-finding trip to Florida and his formula for a reinvented Coney Island is based on an Orlando theme-park model.
On Sunday, Zigun outlined his new formula for a small gathering of Coney Island enthusiasts meeting inside the sweatbox that is the top floor of the Coney Island Museum on Surf Avenue, before talking to the Economic Development Corporation later this week.
Eschewing a “cookie-cutter” mall where rock-climbing walls pass for “indoor amusements,” Coney Island, USA’s artistic director instead described a “pedestrian fantasy land” filled with a half-dozen or so state-of-the-art virtual reality rides ala “Men in Black” and “The Simpsons” for the kids, and a more adult playground for moms and dads filled with fine dining and Broadway caliber shows.
Zigun, who recently quit the Coney Island Development Corporation in protest over the city’s decision to retool its controversial rezoning proposal by shrinking the amusement district down to 9 acres, said he still has friends in city government who are willing to listen.
“Disney is spending millions of dollars trying to create what we’re about to destroy,” Zigun said.
To prevent that from happening, Zigun is urging the city to adopt a new strategy jettisoning condos and sneaker outlets in favor of a new generation of IMAX-style motion rides capable of thrilling families year-round “even when there’s snow on the ground.”
“The problem is that no one involved in the [redevelopment] plan knows anything about the way the amusement industry works,” Zigun said. “They’re working with a mall operator.”
Thor Equities and its principal Joe Sitt may indeed “own the land” – or a great deal of it in Coney Island – but Zigun’s answer is at least fundamental.
“We own the zoning,” he declared.
Zigun dismissed the notion that a rezoning plan must be certified before Mayor Mike Bloomberg leaves office next year as “fear mongering” and instead warned against “bad zoning” that would not only squeeze the amusement district dry, but create “apartheid retail” along Mermaid Avenue.
“The city has significantly veered off course,” Zigun said, warning, “There are secret maps that people haven’t seen.”
In order for a “full day of fantasy” to work in the new Coney Island, Zigun stressed that the city needs to make a real commitment to off-site parking and suggested the area between Hart Place and Neptune Avenue as a good place to build new parking facilities.
With unsold and incomplete condos already dotting the borough’s landscape, Zigun also suggested that it is time to reassess the viability of condos and look for “anchor tenants” with solid amusement credentials – ones that tourists would gladly board a plane to reach.
When some questioned if the room a Disney-caliber operator would likely require was there, Zigun pointed to the Coney Island shore and said that the pilings were already in place to build new piers where 21st century rides and attractions could take shape.
All of this would come at a price, and Zigun says he wouldn’t be averse to requiring visitors to pay as much as $70 for a ticket to the new Coney Island.
“The Coney Island of today isn’t as cheap as you think it is,” he said.
Still, others like Tricia Vita expressed concerns that the new Coney Island might be unaffordable for many Brooklyn families who are accustomed to enjoying a day at the “People’s Playground.”
“I never liked the idea of one owner,” Vita said. “I don’t like the idea of it not being affordable to the people I see on the subway.”
©2008 Community Newspaper Group
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