Gowanus Lounge: Serving Brooklyn

GL Analysis: It’s Astroland Deathwatch Week

September 2nd, 2008 · 1 Comment

Will Coney Island’s Astroland die or live another year or two? A year after hundreds of reporters showed up to record “Astroland’s Last Day,” the process has started again, with a number of TV reports on Labor Day and an article in the Post on Friday suggesting that Thursday might be the park’s final day. Its annual closing is actually scheduled for Sunday, September 7, but it appears that Carol Albert, who sold her amusement park to developer Joe Sitt for $30 million two years ago has said she’d close on September 4 if there’s no deal.

The Astroland Death Dance is already well underway. Ms. Albert says she hasn’t had any face to face negotiations with Mr. Sitt and that she’s hoping for a one- or two-year lease extension. (The current lease, which was negotiated last October, runs through January 31.) The developer’s spokesperson says the park’s former owner “has decided to give up on the future of Coney Island when her current lease isn’t even up for a number of months.” Spokesperson Stefan Friedman promises “amusements, games, shopping and entertainment galore” on the property next year. The promises echo the developer’s PR campaign for a “Summer of Hope” this year that included rides on a Stillwell Avenue property that shut down a month early.

We could go on and on about the Astroland topic, but will simply say this: it behooves Mr. Sitt, the city and Ms. Albert to come to a quick agreement about the future of the Astroland property. It is highly unlikely that, even if a rezoning passes quickly, work could begin before 2010 and it would be a travesty to leave the fate of the property up to vague promises or to allow an onslaught of premature demolition.

What is perhaps most troubling is that the city really has no interim strategy for Coney Island to bridge the gap between the passage of a rezoning and the start of any new construction. Given the current economic climate, there are real doubts as to what can and will be financed in Coney Island. Could the three hotels Mr. Sitt says he wants to build get financing in a marginal part of what is going to be an overbuilt market? Can thousands of units of condos be financed in a softening (some would say crashing) Brooklyn market? Would a big amusement park be bankrolled if the market deteriorates further? If you answer “yes” to these questions you are truly an optimist. We’re thinking the best answer is the distant possibility of a “maybe.”

We hate to be the skunk that wanders through the Coney Island Redevelopment Beach Bash, but there is a very real possibility that if the city doesn’t take concrete steps to avoid closures and demolitions, the short-term Future of Coney Island could be that of the world’s biggest school bus parking lot, cleared for a few weeks between Memorial Day and July 4 for temporary carnival rides. For those who think that Coney has nowhere to go but up, think again.

If Mr. Sitt is working in good faith in Coney Island as he has repeatedly said, he would renew the leases of existing businesses and attractions without delay or drama and would do so in a way as to spare everyone this foul little annual drama that does nothing to help his public image or to further the cause of Coney Island. Astroland should stay in place until the land is truly ready to be developed and other boardwalk businesses should stay too. The city has already agreed to back away from acquiring a significant amount of land held by Mr. Sitt. The least the developer could do is act in good faith on Astroland. To do otherwise would be to demonstrate a disgusting lack of caring for long-suffering Coney Island. The choice of donning the wardrobe of Good Guy or Bad Guy is, as it as always been, in Mr. Sitt’s hands.

Tags: coney island · Thor Equities

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 anonymouse // Sep 2, 2008 at 3:22 pm

    How about Ms. Albert buy back her old propert and do whatever she wants with it? Given the real estate bust, I’m sure the land has depreciated below $30 million since she sold it.