Derailed zipline owners accused the city of flexing its muscle to prevent their thrill ride from opening in Coney Island during last summer’s big tourist season, costing them hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Mayor Bloomberg pressured the Department of Consumer Affairs and Department of Buildings to stall approvals for the ride that zips daredevils down a steel cable six stories in the air, giving Luna Park — which rents land from the city — a competition-free summer, they charged.
“I’ve been permitting in the city for the last 25 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this. I’m very uncomfortable with it,” said zipline boss Mark Zientek.
BK Festival, which manages the Stillwell Avenue property the ride sits on, also accused the city of pushing owner Thor Equities to sell the lot as part of its redevelopment plan for the People’s Playground.
“The city wants to take over from here to Surf Avenue,” said BK Festival partner Tom Walker, who claimed that several inspectors told him the mayor’s office was behind the stalled permits. “And they have the power to do it.”
City officials blew off the claims, saying the mayor’s office is simply a Coney booster, and that has no plans to acquire the lot.
“The more people activate their properties and bring new amenities to Coney Island to make it an even greater attraction, the better,” said Kyle Sklerov, a spokesman for the city’s Economic Development Corporation, the quasi-government agency that heads the redevelopment project. “We want Coney Island to succeed.”
The buildings department said it was just an innocent bystander.
“The application was denied by the Department of Consumer Affairs, we’re not involved,” said spokesperson Ryan Fitzgibbon.
Consumer affairs, which licenses amusement rides, said any blame falls squarely on BK Festival because it filed bogus insurance paperwork.
“BK Festival’s disingenuous claim mirrors both the fraudulent insurance documents we caught [it] submitting, and the inconsistent and questionable information [it] provided regarding who actually owns and takes responsibility for this ride,” said spokeswoman Abigail Lootens.
But BK Festival director Will McCarthy, who has been acquiring festival permits for 16 years, says employees in the consumer affairs and buildings departments told him the mayor’s office was pressuring the agencies to keep the ride closed.
“Why in the world would we put people’s lives in jeopardy with bogus insurance?” he said. “That’s the most insane thing I’ve ever heard.”
Management behind the zipline said the city’s actions were political sabotage that resulted in costly permitting hurdles.
“They’re bleeding us financially,” said Tom Brady, another BK Festival partner. “We’re not rich guys.”
Operators expected to have the ride zipping by June, but said the buildings department lost their application, and sent their work permit into review the day after awarding it, while imposing excessive standards. Seventeen inspectors visited the site in less than a month, sometimes for the same unfounded complaints, according to Category 5 Ziplines owner Patrick Ingram.
Buildings department records only show four inspections since May, added Fitzgibbon.
The zipline got the green light on Sept. 13, but buildings inspector Craig Gualtieri closed the ride an hour before the grand opening, telling managers that Juan Orozco, licensing director at the Department of Consumer Affairs, ordered the closure because of incomplete insurance paperwork.
The buildings department had no record of Gualtieri’s visit, and Orozco declined to comment.
The city bought 6.9 acres of land — about the size of five football fields — from Thor Equities in 2009, after clashing with chief executive Joe Sitt over visions for reviving the amusement district. The city leased the land to Central Amusement International, which invested around $30 million to develop Luna Park and Scream Zone, not far from where the zipline sits.
The city, which invested more than $6.6 million in infrastructure for the parks, receives $100,000 a year in rent plus a share of revenue.