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Astroland owner keeps fingers crossed - Carol Hill Albert still holding out for city deal to keep famed amusement park alive

The rides are all up for sale, Thor Equities seems intractable and local elected officials appear to have thrown up their hands.

So why was Astroland Amusement Park owner Carol Hill Albert still giving indications earlier this week that the dearly departed park might yet fly again in Coney Island?

On Monday, Albert told this newspaper that she was postponing any pending sales contracts on Astroland rides for a few days just in case the city steps in to broker a deal to keep the amusement park around at least until Coney Island’s rezoning is completed.

Twenty rides, including the Astro Tower, Pirate Ship and Tilt-A-Whirl, are now up for sale as part of the “Astroland Liquidation” at Rides4U, a supplier of amusements headquartered in Somerville, New Jersey.

Albert has until January 31 to vacate the 3.1-acre site on Surf Avenue her family sold to Joe Sitt and Thor Equities in 2006 for a reported $30,000,000.

“When the city announced it was going to find an interim plan for Coney Island, I postponed any sales contract,” Hill said. “I don’t think there’s more hope on the horizon.”

Astroland closed up on September 7 for the 2008 season and presumably for good, even as whispers immediately began circulating that the city might step in to take a more direct role in extending the park’s life.

When asked if Thor Equities was contemplating extending Astroland’s lease on Surf Avenue, spokesperson Stefan Friedman said, “No.”

This week Coney Island Development Corporation President Lynn Kelly said that the city proposed a “potential scenario” which might extend Astroland’s lease one more year and provide the park with a temporary home until a new park is built.

“Unfortunately, it appears at this point that Thor is not interested in even entertaining such a suggestion,” Kelly said.

City Councilmember Domenic Recchia said that he and Borough President Marty Markowitz also attempted to set up a meeting between Thor Equities and Albert to try to hammer out a deal, but to no avail.

“We weren’t successful,” Recchia said.

“He doesn’t have any problem on my end of it,” Albert responded. “They [Thor] are the ones who decided not to discuss it.”

Charles Denson of the Coney Island History Project called the return of Astroland a “long shot.”

“There’s still hope that something might happen,” he said.

Denson maintains that Albert wanted to stay on Surf Avenue “until they [developers] were ready to put a shovel in the ground.”

In fact, the author of Coney Island: Lost and Found said that before the family sold in 2006, Albert had a viable, working plan with financial backing that would have transformed Astroland into a year-round tourist destination with artists’ shops, hotel and a partially enclosed dome.

“I worked with her on that,” Denson said. “She wanted to be part of the future. She had the means to do it. Everything the city wanted she put in this plan.”

Denson talked about the abandoned Albert plan last week during a presentation hosted by the Municipal Art Society in Manhattan.

“The city never wanted to work with the small owners,” Denson said. “This is what the EDC [Economic Development Corporation] does – they deal with big developers. Thor was the golden boy.”

“Publicly they [city] said that they want one operator for the whole megilla,” Albert family spokesperson Joe Carella said. “But Coney Island has always been a patchwork.”

The Albert family will remain in Coney Island next year at the helm of the world-famous Cyclone roller coaster. Opening day is April 5.

But without Astroland next door, it remains unclear just how the venerable old coaster might fare financially.

“There’s always been this synthesis between the park and the Cyclone,” Carella admitted. “We’re entering uncharted territory to see how the Cyclone does.”

Recchia said that even without Astroland next summer, Thor Equities will bring rides and amusements to Surf Avenue.

According to the councilman, a separate, unnamed party might also be interested in bringing another roller coaster to Coney Island next year “either on Thor property or other properties.”

“Astroland was great,” Recchia said. “I personally am going to miss it. But we’re going to have rides and entertainment until we get the redevelopment started.”

Even though Recchia will be term-limited out of office in 2009, he hopes the rule limiting officials to two four-year terms will be overturned to give incumbents like him a shot at a third term.

“I hope so,” Recchia said. “I’d hate to leave right in the middle of rezoning.”

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