Gowanus Lounge: Serving Brooklyn

GL Analysis: City Officials Fiddle While Coney Island Burns

January 9th, 2009 · 12 Comments

If anyone is looking for good news about Coney Island, forget it. About the only positive development we can report is that it appears the city has started work repairing the most decrepit stretch of boardwalk in front of Nathan’s, Shoot the Freak, Cha Chas, Ruby’s, Lola Staar and other shops. The irony is that none of those businesses may be around to reap the benefit of a boardwalk through which people can’t fall. Wheeee! While we didn’t attend, reports from a Chamber of Commerce meeting indicate that while panelists like Purnima Kapur and Lynn Kelly (who we respect) talked about the land use review process and rezoning, they did little to address the bloody massacre that is currently underway. Priority Number One at the moment is developing a short- to medium-term plan to ensure that Coney Island remains viable during a financial crisis that will make their rezoning nothing more than an interesting concept. The issues are the premature killing of Astroland and what will replace it and buying land from Joe Sitt and Thor Equities, which has proven itself to be an untrustworthy player in the redevelopment game. What officials don’t seem to understand is that while they’re busy promoting a vision, a gruesome, vicious, bloody murder is taking place. The heck with vision. Charles Manson is hacking up a neighborhood that has already been repeatedly brutalized. We can talk about the vision when the economy rights itself in about five years, unless they’re thinking President Obama will make rebuilding Coney Island the nation’s biggest public works project to create jobs. Vision? We need a cease fire before the place is leveled.

The creation of the Coney Island debacle and its inability to deal with it before fatal damage is inflicted is fast becoming one of the glaring public policy failures of the Bloomberg Administration. Its enablers are the people in the print media–with precious few exceptions–who have either ignored it except for facile and asinine stories or let themselves be used as PR tools like Rich Calder of the NY Post whose reporting has been transparently and ridiculously lapdog-like. (For instance, the curious “Sofagate” story this summer and even the recent story about Thor trying to buy land from Horrace Bullard.) When Thor wants to plant a story to publicly negotiate with the city or make a point, it speed dials the Post. The Times, sadly, doesn’t seem to care, which is a tragedy in and of itself because it has brilliant people on staff like Sewell Chan who could be covering the story via CityRoom. Why hasn’t Charles Bagli taken this story on? The Daily News’ Brooklyn Bureau behaves like a disinterested third party that steps in every now and then and then runs off to cover the next car crash. We won’t even touch the subject of the local weeklies because it makes us want to vomit.

A few days ago, we called it The Rape of Coney Island. Yet, like the people in Rhode Island who watched a rape on pool table so many years ago without stopping it, public officials continue to stand around and watch it happen. Somebody better settle up and get Thor out of the core of Coney and then come up with a short-term strategy to avoid a decade of horrendous and nauseating blight. The clock is ticking.

Tags: coney island

12 responses so far ↓

  • 1 D // Jan 9, 2009 at 9:46 am

    Thanks GL for beating the drums on the destruction of Coney Island. Not since the days of Robert Moses has Brooklyn taken it on the chin so badly. It’s deja vu all over again…

  • 2 Brenda from Flatbush // Jan 9, 2009 at 9:59 am

    I share the outrage here over the wretched lack of vision for Coney’s future, but I wish I could summon more emotion over the piecemeal destruction of the ratty Mom-and-Pop amusement rides. Aside from the landmarked treasures (Cyclone and Wonder Wheel), I must confess that Coney has been a poor excuse for a family destination: dirty, shabby, and dangerous around the edges. Its somewhat tawdry, creepy/carny atmosphere is catnip to photographers and city nostalgists, but would be awfully difficult, perhaps totally unrealistic, to preserve in amber in any commercially viable way. Don’t get me wrong, I HATE Disney-fication, but I feel much the same way about the sanitized Times Square: I remember the old version, and the new one was the result of an inevitable choice between continued decay or mass redevelopment. What’s lost was “authentic,” but an esthetic of decadence and cheerful squalor has inherent commercial limitations. Time for the poor sagging rockets and “Shoot the Freak” signs to find a visionary who can conserve them like the museum pieces they are, or should be–preferably in a setting where they can still evoke the carny atmosphere of old in a new, clean, accessible, wonderful amusement park that will attract people in droves.
    Oh, and one with a decent rest room…no small matter if you’re there with kids. Not bad for a vision; why can’t anyone think of anything but condos?

  • 3 J // Jan 9, 2009 at 10:04 am

    “Yet, like the people in Rhode Island who watched a rape on pool table so many years ago without stopping it, public officials continue to stand around and watch it happen.”

    And with this, dear GL, I’m afraid your bloggerrhea has gone metaphor too far…

  • 4 Nat // Jan 9, 2009 at 10:12 am


  • 5 5w30 // Jan 9, 2009 at 10:36 am

    There ARE windmills on Coney Island!

  • 6 preserve the amusement zoning // Jan 9, 2009 at 12:16 pm

    “city nostalgist” hm. that’s a bit degrading, brenda. I prefer something with more of a cultural vibe. like “preservationist.” or maybe “historian.” the cheerful squalor of amusements you refer to….actually makes money. “authentic” is important – must we really live in a city composed entirely of tidy façades w/tidy signage? people want redevelopment, Coney Island truly needs it after rampant bulldozing by speculators over decades. but why should it be at the expense of what history remains? keep the old along with careful, respectful development of the new.

  • 7 electricia // Jan 9, 2009 at 12:44 pm

    rip ’em to shreds, Bob! we’re with you all the way!

  • 8 Jack // Jan 9, 2009 at 1:38 pm

    Brenda from Flatbush, I actually said this about the areas near the Atlantic Yards project: Dumpy, but needs work and not a total revamp.

    Now look at the whole Atlantic Yards area? A blighted mess. And what’s to come? Who knows but other Ratner projects are just junk.

    But the big difference in Coney Island: Local owners and operators actually figured out a way to make the land work in Coney Island. You might not like it, but they made it a valid destination.

    The only thing that really needs to be done is to just build a few solid 2-3 story buildings to upgrade the mess of ancient/uncared for buildings that are there. And yes, more bathrooms.

    But in the great scheme of things, those are very easy to do… If you want to do them. It’s clear that Thor could care less, and the city is a mess as well.

    And I’m not even a nostalgia nut. I just don’t understand what the is the obsession with cleaning things up in NYC so much so that they are unrecognizable.

    Heck, look at the Stillwell Avenue terminal. The station itself is lovely! But the retail? Baskin Robbins, Dunkin’ Doughnuts & a Subway (coming soon). I used to travel out there in the dead of winter to head to Philips Candy. Now? What magic does Baskin Robbins, Dunkin’ Doughnuts & Subway? 100% of none.

  • 9 Pablo Jonsey // Jan 9, 2009 at 6:14 pm

    OK, you got your Astroland rocket the ICON of Coney Island removed from the roof of Gregory & Pauls and not one mainstream news organization covered the story. WHERE IS THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA, In whose pocket are they hiding?

    We the people of Coney Island, and I am one, thank the Gowanus Lounge and GL for covering the destruction of NYC culture. Be assured that your articles are being read by Coney Island lovers around the world, by amusement park aficionados, by the average joe.

    The Coney Island State of Mind will survive this desecration. The People’s Playground will be running full tilt. We will always carry the ideas of fun, eternal youth, artistry, that the founders of Coney Island established years ago. A place where the strange is the ordinary, a place where everyone fits in, a true melting pot.

  • 10 Bruce // Jan 9, 2009 at 8:50 pm

    I live here, I walk the area in summer and winter, and the only thing that looks shabby belongs to one Joe Sitt. The rest of Coney Island is kept in great shape by the present land owners who really care. I am sorry, but the Coney Island you describe has not existed for 20 to 30 years.

  • 11 Isis // Jan 10, 2009 at 11:29 am

    I’ve lived in Coney for decades and I have been reading the postings here for some time, without responding. The picture that GL paints is 100% accurate.

    What I have not seen addressed here is the most egregious insult of all: Marty Markowitz’s $64 million Pringle’s potato chip shaped monstrosity planned for Seaside Park. Marty’s gotta have a fab new place for his summer concert series. But instead of building it within the Coney development zone, he’s going to ruin the only park in the neighborhood. Other locations were offered but Mr. Brooklyn insists that they are too small for the extravaganzas that he has planned.

    Brooklyn’s libraries and bus lines have been hit with cuts. Education, police, fire and just about every other service has been hit. But ground will be broken in Aug. ’09 on Marty’s Monument. Oh by the way, Mayor Mike is pissing away $10 million of our money on this too.

  • 12 Harold Kramer // Jan 12, 2009 at 12:18 am

    It is time New Yorkers said ENOUGH! to madness that is going on in Coney Island.

    Mass evictions on Christmas Eve, empty lots were amusement and rides should stand, the unnecessary closure of Astroland.

    The city has a poor history with Coney Island. Incredibly Coney has survived despite the city’s best efforts to destroy it.
    In 2000 Mayor Giuliani illegally tore down my family’s ride the Thunderbolt with no regard to it’s history and illegally I might add.

    Now is the time to tell city hall that enough is enough. Contact the mayor by leaving a 311 comment and write to your local council member.

    This is has got to stop!
    SAVE CONEY ISLAND now before there is nothing left to save.