Coney Island’s Astroland amusement park was sold this week to a real-estate developer who plans to tear down the family-run carnival to make way for a $1.5-billion fantasyland of hotels, movie theaters, neon-lit shops, beachfront luxury condos and even a few new rides.
The Albert family operated Astroland for 44 years before selling the land to developer Joe Sitt’s Thor Equities for an undisclosed sum.
Sitt plans to use the two-acre site for a hotel and other attractions, including a 150-foot water slide, a multi-level carousel and the city’s first new roller coaster since the Cyclone was built in 1927.
The Cyclone itself, which is owned by the Parks Department but run by the Albert family, was not part of this week’s sale.
Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park was also not included in the sale. That park is the biggest of the remaining funlands in Coney Island, but it sits right between land already owned by Thor Equities and the Astroland site bought this week.
Many believe that Deno’s is next on Sitt’s “to buy” list.
Sitt has spent a reported $100 million acquiring land throughout the once-vibrant “people’s playground” of Coney Island — an area he now wants to turn into a mini-Las Vegas.
“We want jaws to drop,” said the developer’s spokesman, Lee Silberstein.
“This is going to be the largest expansion of the amusement district that Coney has ever seen. There will be jobs, restaurants at every price point, all kinds of retail, the water park, a hotel where people could hold trade shows.”
The project earned praise from the official “unofficial mayor” of Coney Island, Dick Zigun, this week.
“We are in for a new age of Coney Island heavy on amusement and entertainment,” said the founder of Coney Island USA and producer of the annual Mermaid Parade.
“Now we must challenge the developer to build the best of fantasy architecture, something that wouldn’t be built in New Jersey, something that is worthy of New York City and the brand name ‘Coney Island.’”
Sitt isn’t the first deep-pocketed dreamer to descend onto Coney with a vision of a new golden age (see timeline).
More than a decade ago, the founder of Kansas Fried Chicken chain, Horace Bullard, attempted to rebuild Coney Island’s world-famous Steeplechase Park, buying seven acres of boardwalk property and the derelict Thunderbolt roller coaster once celebrated by Woody Allen in “Annie Hall.”
His plan failed when then-Mayor Giuliani came out against it. Just before Keyspan Park was opened in 2001, the city tore down the Thunderbolt — which was in the line of sight of baseball fans coming to the new stadium — claiming that it was in imminent danger of collapse.
Bullard sold the last piece of his holdings to Sitt in March, trading a Boardwalk property for $13 million, according to city records.
Now he believes the Gravesend-born developer has a chance of getting it right.
“Just getting all that property from so many small owners is a Herculean feat in Coney Island,” Bullard said. “If he can keep the city’s support, [the development] could work.”
But the most controversial element of the plan — beachfront condos — would require a rezoning from the city, which currently mandates only “amusement” use on all of the Sitt-owned sites.
Bullard is confident that Sitt has the city backing to get the necessary variances.
“At this point in the city’s history, you can’t have a carnival and make money,” Bullard said. “You need to have something to bring in profits. Hotels and apartments do that. A theme park isn’t in the cards.”
Such talk gave one Coney Island legend a stomachache. Top competitive eater Tim Janus, currently ranked seventh in the world, vowed to organize a hunger strike by competitive eaters to protest the closure of Astroland
“Where are those rides going to end up?” asked Janus, who regularly participates at the annual Nathan’s hot dog-eating contest in Coney Island. “Development is nice but we can’t lose that gritty character, the creaky rides, the feel of the place.”