Coney Island boardwalk businesses granted lease extensions, rental assistance amid COVID struggles

Ruby’s Bar and Grill joined forces with four other boardwalk businesses to advocate for lease extensions after suffering through the pandemic.
File photo

The iconic businesses that line Coney Island’s famed boardwalk are breathing a sigh of relief, as they’ve been granted a 10-year lease extension, as well as additional rental assistance through 2029.

“The amendment will help small businesses on Coney Island’s historic boardwalk. The resulting lease and sublease extensions will afford them greater stability, enable them to better recover from the pandemic, and help them engage in long-term investments beneficial to the Coney Island community,” said a spokesperson for the business-boosting Economic Development Corporation, which controls the Coney Island Amusement District. 

The full City Council approved a lease extension last week for Central Amusement International, which manages the properties on behalf of the EDC. 

Four businesses that have leases with Central Amusement International — Ruby’s Bar and Grill, Paul’s Daughter, Brooklyn Beach Shop, and Tom’s Coney Island — banded together to bargain for leeway with their leases after missing an entire beach season during the worst days of the pandemic in the summer of 2020.

“We realized that we’re in trouble, that we need help, so we reached out to [local Councilmember] Mark Treyger’s office to see what kind of help he might be able to influence us with,” said Michael Sarrel, the general manager of Ruby’s Bar and Grill.

Treyger, Coney Island’s outgoing councilmember, helped facilitate negotiations with Central Amusement International — who was already requesting a lease extension until 2037 with their landlord, EDC, in the hope to see more return on upcoming investments — and encouraged the management company to pass off the same deal to its tenants. 

“[Zamperla] is asking for a lease extension until 2037, so we wanted to ensure that the boardwalk businesses also remained viable, so I encouraged him to renegotiate the leases with the businesses,” Treyger told Brooklyn Paper. 

Because Central Amusement International is essentially a tenant of the EDC, they rely on relief from the EDC themselves before they are able to offer relief to the individual business which they oversee. 

Ultimately, the EDC agreed and finalized the deal by sending the legally-binding agreement to the City Council, which approved the extensions.

“Our landlord said ‘the only way we could really help you is if our landlord got us an extension,’” said Sarrel, of Ruby’s Bar and Grill. “If our landlord got some sort of rebate or better terms from the city, then he would be able to pass along those better terms to us.”

The now-approved deal extends the leases of the advocating five businesses, as well as both Luna Park and Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park, from 2027 to 2037, and also includes rent relief for the next seven years to help the businesses get back on their feet after they suffered economic losses during the pandemic, which kept many visitors away in the typically-busy summer seasons. 

A business notably left out of the agreement is Lola Star’s Gift Shop  (located on the boardwalk right next to Ruby’s Bar and Grill) whose owner Dianna Carlin (known herself as Lola Star) has been vocal about rent hikes allegedly wrought down by Central Amusement International in 2019.

In a letter posted to social media, Star said she was never notified of the deal.

Lola Star launched a protest at City Hall in 2019 against rent hikes on boardwalk businesses.File photo

“The @nycmayorsoffice and @nycedc worked with the other small businesses to assist them with a rent reduction and lease extension to help them survive the challenges of the pandemic,” Star wrote in an Instagram post. “I was excluded from this assistance. Councilman @marktreyger and the EDC did not even tell me they were working on this extension with the other businesses.” 

According to her post, the small business owner said neither the councilmember nor the city Economic Development Corporation have responded to any of her emails and she was “intentionally iced out of the City’s assistance and this extension.” 

“City Hall and my Councilman Mark Treyger refuse to speak to me or answer any of my emails. The EDC told me that no one is available to return numerous calls and emails until January. I’m not kidding,” Star continued. “Although they are my landlord and although this extension drastically impacts my small business, they refuse to even speak to me. Please help by [sic] sharing my story and tagging @nycmayor in the hope that someone will respond.”

She suspects in her letter that she is without a doubt left out of the agreement because of her activism for small businesses starting in 2007 when she founded the Save Coney Island organization to fight for the preservation of the historic amusement district, to as recently as last year when she raised the lack of diversity within the Alliance for Coney Island.

“I assure you that there is NO other reason for this exclusion, other than my community activism,” Star wrote. “My small business has been decisively discriminated against, by the City of New York because I exercised my First Amendment rights through my community activism.” 

An EDC spokesperson said Star still has time to enter a lease agreement under similar terms as her fellow small business owners. 

One local activist argued that the plan needs to go further to also benefit the surrounding neighborhood in addition to area businesses as he claims promises made when the Coney Island Master Plan was forged in 2009 have not been met. 

“Since the passage of the City’s 2009 Coney Island Rezoning Action community stakeholders have consistently complained of being left out of discussions involving the future of Coney Island. Past discussions of community benefits remain unfulfilled,” wrote Craig Hammerman, a Brighton Beach resident and former district manager of Park Slope’s Community Board 6, in written testimony submitted to the City Council’s Zoning and Franchises Subcommittee on Dec. 7. “This has led to divergent economic development trajectories that benefit the few at the expense of the many.”

Star does not have an active lease with Central Amusement International currently since it expired in 2019, according to multiple sources, but the councilmember suggests the two parties attempt to hammer one out, with help from the city’s economic agency.

“I still encourage Zamperla and Lola Star to negotiate in good faith and EDC could play the role of facilitator,” Treyger said. 

Central Amusement International did not respond to a request for comment.