Monday, April 20, 2009

All Eyes Are On. . . . Coney Island

If Coney Island ever dies, nobody is ever going to want to have to take the political blame!

Things are not going well for the beautifully scrappy and resilient amusement community that is fighting for its life largely due to multiple missteps that can be laid at the door of the Bloomberg administration. Despite its many missteps, the Bloomberg administration is working strenuously to avoid the appearance of responsibility for a possible Coney demise. When it comes to appearances, however, even developer Joe Sitt (Thor Equities) is making a half-hearted attempt to avoid the appearance of being responsible for Coney’s current woes. This is the same Joe Sitt who has systematically been sorely stressing Coney’s lifelines, most recently evicting Astroland. Sitt is now running subway advertisements inviting people to temporarily use the former Astroland site as low rent flea market space this summer. Really? Couldn’t the other vacant seaside land created by the city’s and Sitt’s policies have been used for such flea market space without evicting Astroland?

The City and Sitt notwithstanding, people are fighting hard to save Coney.

All eyes are now on another politician who has been in office throughout the Bloomberg administration years, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz. Will he call for changes to proposed zoning provisions essential for the historic Coney Island amusement area to survive? The Coney Island amusement community has great hopes that Markowitz will do the right thing, that if his name is to be forever linked to the Borough of Brooklyn as one of its greatest boosters, that he won’t want this greatest and most famous of Brooklyn legacies to have faded out on his watch.

If you haven’t contacted Marty about Saving Coney yet you may want to make it an immediate priority:

Brooklyn Borough President
Marty Markowitz
(718) 802-3700

People are mobilizing with energy, resources and talent to save Coney. Last week we were at the Coney Island USA 2009 fund-raising Spring Gala (see opening the picture and others). We hope you were there and if you weren’t, we are sorry we didn’t tell you to go. But there will be other events and you can send money anyway. The Municipal Art Society is also doing its part to mobilize resources to save Coney. Among other things MAS has just been writing about the former Childs restaurant building on Surf Avenue and 12th Street, which has been fixed up as the home of Coney Island USA.

Here are the bottom-line essentials Mr. Markowitz needs to call for in terms of proposed zoning plan changes in order to support the survival of the Coney Island amusement area:

1. There should be a much larger (the largest possible) amusement area in order for Coney Island to succeed as an amusement destination. The area should be devoted exclusively to amusements. The community is calling for it to extend, at a minimum, from the boardwalk to the Bowery. It should be even larger. Local recreational uses, restaurants, and retail should be located outside of this core amusement area and uses within this amusement area should be limited to the following:

Amusement parks, animal exhibits, dark rides, Ferris wheels, fortunetellers, freak shows, miniature golf courses, games of skill, water parks, food stalls, souvenir stands.
2. There should be no hotels south of Surf and east of Keyspan Park. Hotels south of Surf Avenue present three problems:

a) Design: High-rises would obstruct sight-lines to the beach and cast a pall over Coney's sea side atmosphere. Buildings south of Surf should be limited to six stories.

b) Encroachment on amusement uses: Hotels would encroach on the already limited area devoted to amusements. The frontage and a sizable percentage of the first two stories of any hotel south of Surf should be devoted to uses that complement amusements. Any buildings south of Surf should provide a minimum of on-site amusements to properly integrate itself into the district.

c) Preservation: Hotels south of Surf would compromise some of the few remaining historic buildings in Coney: the Popper building, Nathan's, and the Henderson building. The demand for hotels can be easily be met elsewhere in the district where it would not counterproductively undermine the historic Coney Island heritage which, preserved, will strengthen and fortify Coney Island as a brand name and destination.
3. There needs to be support for local entrepreneurs and locally-owned small businesses within the amusement district. Small, locally owned businesses and local entrepreneurs have proven their resilience and have historically been the lifeblood of Coney Island. They, above all else, can be credited with the endurance of Coney’s unique character and appeal. They can survive and thrive in this economy where the national chains are failing. Space must be made available to accommodate these small businesses, most of which are far smaller than the 2,500 sq ft proposed by the city (most are under 1,000 sq ft, and many are as small as 500 sq ft).
What you see above is what the Coney’s amusement area community is asking for as Coney fights for its life. We believe the citizens of this city want to see Coney survive and that we owe the community even more support to preserve it.

For more of our thoughts on Coney Island see these previous NNY posts:

Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Hearing the Coney Island Narrative

Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Our Noticing New York Testimony at Yesterday’s Community Board Hearing on City’s Proposed Coney Island Rezoning

Saturday, July 19, 2008
June 24, 2008- Hearing on Proposed Coney Island Development

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