Coney Island’s historic Astroland will close up for the season in just over a month — and when it does, it may be closing for good.
With the summer season winding down, Astroland’s operator Carol Albert still doesn’t know whether her landlord Thor Equities — which is in a much larger battle with the Bloomberg Administration over the future of the entire amusement area — will renew her lease for another year.
“Here we are on the edge of the great precipice again,” said Albert, referring to last year’s 11th-hour, one-year lease that Thor offered her when it became clear that the development company would not be allowed to move ahead with its $1.5-billion, hotel, retail and amusement complex.
This year, Albert says she needs a decision from Thor about another one-year extension as soon as possible. Hanging in the balance are jobs for her small, full-time staff and hundreds of seasonal employees, the steadily declining value of her rides and arguably, the heart and soul of Coney Island itself.
She claims that she “turned down an offer” to sell the rides at her rundown, Space Age-themed amusement area in hopes of getting another one-year extension.
And if she’s not back on Surf Avenue and West 10th Street, she doesn’t expect anyone to replace the 46-year-old amusement park.
“It looks like [it will be] Astroland or vacant land,” she said. “If we go dark, it will be sad for Coney Island.”
The uncertainty about the park’s future stems from an ongoing dispute between Joe Sitt, Thor’s owner, and the Bloomberg Administration over who will get to build what both say they want: a top-notch playground of new rides that would replace many existing amusements and vacant lots near the sand-swept Boardwalk.
Sitt, the principal property owner in the area, says he would like to develop his own amusement park, but the mayor has said he doubts that Thor Equities, best known for retail development, is up to the task. Bloomberg has proposed buying out Thor and other landowners to create a city-owned attraction of rides operated by a theme park professional.
The official public review of the city proposal is underway, but the process is so time consuming that it is unlikely to be completed by next summer.
Albert hopes that Thor, which purchased her land two years ago, books her for another year while the company sorts out the larger land-use plan with the lame duck Bloomberg Administration.
“We’ve had a successful relationship with them [Thor] and we’d like it to continue, but we don’t know yet,” Albert said.
A company spokesman would only say that Albert has a lease through the end of this year and that the company has proven its commitment to seaside amusements.
“Astroland is signed until January, 2009. In the meantime, Thor remains focused on this season’s ‘Summer of Hope’ — a season in which Thor has already brought the world-famous Reithoffer shows to Coney Island; sponsored several events including the annual sand castle building competition; and continues to provide free admission to Astroland for numerous community groups,” Thor Equities spokesman Stefan Friedman saud.
Meanwhile, the city says that Thor is using Astroland as a pawn in a power play.
“If Astroland goes, we will be left with even more vacant and desolate parcels in Coney Island, which only helps to lay the groundwork for a landowner to make a claim in a future administration that amusements don’t work, but a giant mall or luxury condo would,” said Lynn Kelly, president of the Coney Island Development Corporation.
Deno’s Wonder Wheel, the other family-run amusement park in Coney Island, is in a more secure position. It owns most of the land underneath its rides and its owner says he does not feel threatened by the city’s redevelopment plan.