We finally visited Coney Island this weekend, having stayed away for a long time for both personal reasons and because we were depressed by what was going on. What we saw brought tears to our eyes and enraged us. Coney Island in its current state is an absolute disgrace. Every city official involved in this process should hang their heads in shame at one of the most botched and disgusting planning failures we have ever seen in any American city. It is too easy to point fingers at developer Joe Sitt who had the audacity to hang huge FOR LEASE signs that are said to have been custom made to fit each building upon which they were hung and who has asked tenants for double and triple the current rent for new leases and had no tresspassing signs put up everywhere, including on fences that are open and falling down (with no citations from the city). We expect no more and no less from Mr. Sitt. He has never had an issue with taking actions that make him look like one of the most callous and biggest assholes east of the Mississippi River. Bingo. He just did it again. To add insult to injury, today’s Post reports that Mr. Sitt is now negotiating to buy Horace Bullard’s Thunderboldt property (the empty land next to KeySpan Park) to increase his leverage with the city. Mr. Bullard allegedly complains the city hasn’t offered much money for his land. Incredible.
We have many issues with the city’s rezoning that is being debated and believe that it allows too many highrises along Surf Avenue. We were angered when the amusement district was cut from 16 to 9 acres, mainly to placate Mr. Sitt. (Although we cheered when the city bought the front part of Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park, in effect, cleaving Mr. Sitt’s property in two.) We want to see Coney Island revived. It hurts deeply when we see prime land being used for school bus parking or sitting vacant. We believe the current re-zoning is wrongheaded in some respects and needs a major revision. It simply allows too much density around the amusement core–whether it’s a 16-acre one or a 9-acre one. Yet, we don’t have faith that the necessary changes will be made by the Bloomberg Administration.
That’s not the disgrace, however. The disgusting thing that is going on is that that city still hasn’t reached an agreement with Mr. Sitt to buy his land (enriching Mr. Sitt at the expense of taxpayers, but that’s the way it goes). Worse still, there has never been an interim plan to keep Coney Island viable in the period between a rezoning and actual development. As fate would have it, current economic conditions would seem to indicate that we’re talking about 5-10 years, not a few months. We doubt the city will find a world-class amusement park operator to break ground in 2011. We can’t see “entertainment retailers” sinking money into Mr. Sitt’s ersatz shopping centers. We don’t see anyone financing hundreds of hotels rooms in Coney Island when a major hotel bust is about to wash over the city.
Instead, we see Mr. Sitt’s empty land. Mr. Sitt’s FOR LEASE banners. The dismantling of Astroland. And no realistic plans to make sure people will have a reason to go to Coney in 2009, 2010, 2011 and all the other years when no grandiose redevelopment takes place. We blame Mayor Bloomberg, Planning Director Amanda Burden, Brooklyn Planning Director Purnima Kapur, Coney Island Development Corp. head Lynn Kelly. We blame City Councilman Dominic Recchia who deserves to be voted out of office for his role in the Coney debacle. We blame the Borough President for focusing on building an unneeded music venue rather than focusing every ounce of energy on the amusement district. We have contempt for the Mayor, the Borough President and Mr. Recchia. We know Ms. Kapur and Ms. Kelly and respect the work they have done, but they need to act quickly and decisively or Coney Island will be gravely wounded for years to come.
At least, the Atlantic Yards mess is a state problem. The destruction of Coney Island, however, is a city issue.
There were a lot of people in Coney Island on Saturday and most of them were taking pictures of the mess it has become under the stewardship of Joe Sitt and Michael Bloomberg. We stood on Stillwell Avenue, freezing, with Mr. Sitt’s big empty lot on our left and the vacant Beer Island on our right and wiped tears from our eyes, not because of the cold but because of fond memories and a sense of hopelessness and despair that those in charge of this process aren’t up to the challenge of keeping it on life support while the economy works itself out.
What a sad, sad thing for a place that has suffered so much. We urge the city to negotiate hard with Mr. Sitt. We hope all parties sit down and come up with a realistic five year plan to keep Coney going. We hope that Mr. Sitt shows that he has a shred of human decency in his body and that “Joey Coney Island” helps save it instead of being the guy that pulls the trigger and inflicts the final fatal wound.
Time is running out.
For those of you with infinite patience, a letter from the CIDC that is dated today, is reproduced today. It mentions nothing about interim plans. (Click on them to enlarge):