Developer Joe Sitt is bringing new rides and attractions to Coney Island and has rechristened the next three months the “Summer of Hope” for the beleaguered amusement district. Opponents, however, say Sitt represents a “Future of Nope” for the fabled “People’s Playground.”
Piggybacking on the uplifting rhetoric of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, Sitt’s company, Thor Equities, will jazz up Stillwell Avenue for the hot weather months, first with a traveling carnival making a 10-day run near the Boardwalk and then with an assemblage of rides, sideshow curiosities like the world’s biggest alligator and smallest woman, plus a petting zoo for the kiddies.
“It’s going to be the most new rides brought in in decades,” said Thor spokesman Stefan Friedman. “The hope is that this is the first step of the revitalization of Coney Island.”
But the real first step would be a final resolution of the city and Sitt’s longstanding conflict over their competing visions for the amusement area.
Sitt, the principal landowner in Coney Island amusement area, wants to build a $2-billion, Vegas-style, 24-7-365, indoor-outdoor Xanadu, featuring rides, stores, theaters and hotels.
The city has rejected that plan, unveiling its own plan last year to buy Sitt and other landowners’ properties and turn them into a 15-acre amusement park.
But that plan has since been scaled back to a plan for a nine-acre amusement zone and an adjacent “entertainment retail” area — a scheme that alienated some of the city’s earlier supporters, who say the city is snubbing amusement zone operators in order to win over Sitt and other private landowners.
To them, the city might as well rename the neighborhood “Crony Island.”
“This is capitulation to Joe Sitt and it won’t wash,” said Dick Zigun, of Coney Island USA, one of the groups that was organizing a beachfront protest for Thursday — on the eve of Memorial Day weekend and the start of the beach season.
Another Sitt opponent, Angie Pontani, the reigning Miss Cyclone, added: “T[he city] profess[es] this commitment to preserving the amusement district and, in the end, they completely compromised it.”
That said, Zigun and other operators did have some kind words for Sitt’s “Summer of Hope.”
“As long as there are carnival operators and they are safe and everyone has a good time, then it’s a plus,” said Astroland operator Carol Albert, who sold her land to Sitt three years ago, and has been a critic ever since.