Gowanus Lounge: Serving Brooklyn

GL Analysis: The City’s Big Buy in Coney is Bad News for Thor

October 16th, 2008 · 2 Comments

The bombshell dropped late yesterday morning in a press release from the New York City Economic Development Corporation: the city had bought a key parcel of land held by the Ward Family Trust for $11 million. The property is the front part of Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park and it brings the total of city owned land in its downsized amusement district to four of nine acres. A gentleman by the name of Joe Sitt controls some of that other land. The irony is that Mr. Sitt was said to be in contract for the same Wonder Wheel Park land with the Ward Trust for $11M last year. We talked to a city official yesterday who was quite happy about the purchase. In reality it throws the proverbial monkey wrench in the developer’s plan to control 11 acres of land in the heart of the amusement district. Let’s say he owns the head (Astroland) and the rear end (huge lots on Stillwell Avenue and beyond), but is now missing the torso. Today’s post reports that (for reasons we are unable to fathom) that Mr. Sitt let the contract on the land “lapse” and someone opined that the developer is likely “fuming right now.” That would be understandable. (In fact, one imagines the person responsible for the screw up being blindfolded and taken out and shot on the roof of Thor corporate headquarters. “Oh, please, Mr. Sitt, I thought the deadline was November 10, not October 10. It said so right in the email….” Sound of fire squad cocking weapons and Mr. Sitt screaming, “Shoot the son of a bitch now, before I strangle all of you.”) And so, the city scooped it up. We think the Ward Trust might have seen the light and decided that the city’s plan to keep an amusement park on the land might be a good direction in which to go. In any case, the current tenant Deno’s, has a lease that runs through 2020, although the owners could certainly have sold if they wanted.

So, is this a good thing, a bad thing or indifferent? We think that, on the whole, it’s a good thing, although we continue to harbor deep reservations about parts of the rezoning plan for the heart of the amusement district. We were very disappointed in the city’s decision to reduce the planned amusement park from 16 acres down to 9 mainly so that it could mollify Mr. Sitt and his political allies that have the clout to block or delay the Bloomberg plan beyond the end of the current administration.* (*Mayor for Life Factor not included.) We still think that too many towers that could be converted to condos are allowed on Surf Avenue for Mr. Sitt’s benefit and we still believe it would be more appropriate for Mr. Sitt to do most of his development work on land west of KeySpan Park where high rise buildings would be more contextual and not interfere with amusements.

There’s a deeper concern here too: Can either the city or Mr. Sitt or any other developer pull off an ambitious development plan in an environment where the city is likely to face an horrendous budget crisis and only a delusional lender loaning out taxpayer money would somehow bankroll hundreds of millions of dollars of “hotels” in Coney Island. It’s a longshot in good times. It strains credulity as financial markets globally are crashing and burning.

The overwhelming need is for the city to develop and interim plan for Coney Island that takes into account–irrespective of zoning changes–current realities and allows for a 5-10 period of inactivity. Left to market forces, Coney Island ends up with more vacant land and more depressing abandonment. With a plan, the city could ensure that more (temporary) amusements and attractions are put in place so that people continue to visit and enjoy a place that has almost mythical status in the consciousness of people all over America and the world. Coney is a wonderful, multicultural place that has fallen on hard times. The answer right now might be a stopgap effort to improve things marginally until the economy once again allows grand plans.

All that having been said, we cheer the city’s purchase of the Wonder Wheel property. It is what is called, in the trade, one hell of a bargaining chip.

Tags: coney island · Uncategorized

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 trace // Oct 16, 2008 at 9:50 pm

    well despite the overall drag of Thor and its plan the fast one pulled on them (by an arguably already complicit city I realize) is at least funny. As you mention, the guilty party must be really catching hell. Might I suggest a visit to the “Waterboard Thrill Ride” is in order.

  • 2 nycboks // Oct 17, 2008 at 1:17 am

    Coney is a reflection of New York City, and it is mighty grim right now. Had it been supported in its present situation and tweaked where needed, Coney could have succeeded with limited public giveaways. Instead, it is divided and fought over based on a fantasy redevelopment that will never happen due to financial constraints and changing market forces. Coney will never lure a Hamptons crowd or Atlantic City trekkers, it was the jewel of its time because there were no other places to venture out to and transportation was very limited. I think politicians need to stop burning tax dollars on ill advised or flat out corrupt business deals and instead just allow Coney Island to sink or swim, with a lifesaver available when needed.