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Dog gone? Nathan’s could be victim of Coney success

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The city’s plans for turning Coney Island into a year round tourist destination may lead to the demolition of the world famous Nathan’s Famous hot dog stand.

That’s the main bombshell that The Brooklyn Paper discovered in the minutes after discovering the Bloomberg Administra­tion’s unannounced release of a nearly thousand-page report on the impacts of its plans to create a new amusement park, hotels, other attractions and thousands of apartments in a wide swath of Coney Island.

The beloved frankfurter franchise — which has stood on the corner Surf and Stillwell avenues since 1916 — is a possible casualty of the controversial plan because it sits on land whose value could soar after a rezoning opens it up to development.

“[Nathan’s is] assumed to be replaced under the proposed actions with a new building, containing hotel, amusement, retail and enhancing uses,” according to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, which was posted online by the city on Friday afternoon, but not announced. A press release from the Department of City Planning is embargoed until Tuesday morning.

The report is the first step in the rezoning process towards enacting Mayor Bloomberg’s vision of a 27-acre indoor-outdoor amusement zone in the so-called “People’s Playground,” a vision that is complicated by the fact that the city must spend tens, if not hundreds, of millions in taxpayer money to acquire land in the area between the landmark Cyclone roller coaster and Keyspan Park.

The area’s principal landowner, Joe Sitt of Thor Equities, opposes the city plan, but is in stalled negotiations to sell his land to the city.

Before construction can begin, the project is reviewed and voted on by the local community board, Borough President Markowitz, City Planning and the City Council — a lengthy and often bitter process, especially in sweeping undertaking like this.

In the meantime, it is unclear what Coney Island will be like this summer. Sitt has raised rents along the Boardwalk, and, with Astroland closed, it is unclear whether there will be enough activity for the rag-tag collection of bar owners and other open-air vendors to pay the new rents.

Several sources familiar with city zoning changes thought this passage meant the fast food location would be susceptible to pressure from real-estate speculators who could now buy it to create a much-larger, and more profitable, structure on the site of the current two-story structure.

And Dick Zigun, the head freak at the Coney Island USA circus sideshow, said that’s the problem.

“They [the city] are not doing what they could do to preserve truly historic structures,” he said.

Due to the holiday, officials from the city and Nathan’s were not immediately available for comment. Late on Monday, The Brooklyn Paper receieved two e-mails from city officials that reiterated that it is not the city plan to tear down the Nathan’s restaurant, but merely to rezone the area to stimulate development.

Indeed, the Nathan’s company, which owns the iconic frank shack, could hold onto the site and develop it itself, one city official reminded.

And on Tuesday, The Paper received this statement from Nathan’s CEO Eric Gatoff: “We remain committed to Coney Island in the long-term and we fully intend to maintain our historic flagship restaurant at 1310 Surf Avenue. … As to the latest report issued by the City, we believe the information relating to Nathan’s Famous is being misinterpreted and that there is no intention to replace or demolish our flagship location.”

The full impact statement is available at www.nyc.gov/oec.

UPDATED AT 10:30 PM ON JAN. 19: Story was lengthened to include a comment from Dick Zigun and more context about the city plan.

UPDATED AGAIN AT 2 PM ON JAN. 20: Story was updated to include a comment from Nathan’s.

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Reader Feedback

Rik says:
This story is slightly at odds with the ideas expressed at the recent meeting of MAS and the Coney Island community at Our Lady of Solace Church on Wednesday night.
Jan. 19, 2009, 6:09 pm
Steve from The Lou says:
I know hot dogs, I love hot dogs, I sell hot dogs, I teach others how to sell hot dogs, I blog about hot dogs at www.HotDogProfits.com/blog.

I would hate to see yet another classic American icon disappear from the landscape, but I guess you can't fight progress. Let's hope Nathan's decides to develop their own property and continue their grand tradition on Coney.
Jan. 20, 2009, 11 am
jerry from brighton beach/ coney island says:
I also attended the MAS meeting. The MAS vision of at least 25-26 acres of amusement area is a MUST otherwise Coney Island is DEAD. It will only be condos & retail shopping, nothing else & nothing more.
Jan. 20, 2009, 2:04 pm
Charles Piazza from Coney Island says:
Getting rid of Nathan's, one of the known identifying names of Coney Island, known around the world? Let's drop the name "Coney" and just call it "Island"; then let's add another name in front of "Island" and maybe call it "Short Island" or "Beach Island." Where has all common sense gone? Who is running things and coming up with these ideas/plans?
Jan. 20, 2009, 2:58 pm
anonymouse from brooklyn says:
The statement from Nathan’s CEO means nothing. Nathan's doesn't own 1310 Surf, they lease from the Handwerkers. The zoning doesn't stop the the building from being altered when property values soar.
Jan. 21, 2009, 1:09 am
Michael from Bay Ridge says:
Not that I am glad about old Coney Island things closing, but this is just a hot dog stand. Hot dogs are pretty unhealthy, and maybe people's eating habits have changed at some point in the past 80 years.
I miss the old amusement park, but I can easily live without salty, fatty hot dogs.
Plus Nathan's is not "world famous" or widely associated with Coney Island by anyone but old new yorkers. No one else knows about it, and no one else cares. There are only a million other places to buy plastic encased, salt and cheap organ meat sausage (hot dog).
Jan. 21, 2009, 6:11 am
Victor from Bensonhurst says:
Coney Island Nathan's is a national landmark. Must be untouched!
Jan. 23, 2009, 10:54 am
Michael from Park Slope says:
That Nathan's would fall victim to this "Everything Must Go" sale comes as no surprise. Mayor Bloomberg has helped transform a once great amusement park into a giant flea market...Thor Equities being its favorite customer.

In any event, what place would Nathan's have amidst Coney Island's future development? The like of luxury hotel and condo denizens (culinary dilettantes and "health conscious" popinjays that they are) would fail to appreciate the simpler yet richer things of life. Nathan's would do better to die with dignity, after enjoying such a long, prosperous and distinguished life.
Jan. 24, 2009, 3:58 pm
Cyd B. from Park Slope says:
True, this Nathan's location is a real skeevy place, but it's OUR skeevy place! I like to know that I can always come back here and it's JUST as I remember it when I was a kid (I'm over 60). It's one of the few places left that I can actually do that. Shame on Mayor Bloomberg for trying to sweep this demolition under the rug. We need to keep our few historic landmarks. Old Brooklyn is slowly disappearing right before our eyes.
March 2, 2009, 12:15 pm

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