Cha Cha’s amusement park held back by red tape

Cha-Cha’s folly: John “Cha-Cha” Ciarcia’s shuttered amusement park features a dozen rides, food stands, and a restaurant.
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

A Coney Island carny booted from the Boardwalk in favor of more upscale businesses says his trumpeted comeback to the People’s Playground has been stalled — thanks to bureaucratic red tape.

John “Cha-Cha” Ciarcia, the honky-tonk bar owner who didn’t fit in with Mayor Bloomberg’s vision of turning Coney Island into a year-round tourist destination, never obtained the necessary permits for his Cha-Cha’s Steeplechase-Fun Park before announcing that he would open the Stillwell Avenue fun zone on Memorial Day weekend.

City Department of Buildings inspectors quickly intervened and shuttered the park before anyone stepped inside. The park has been closed ever since.

Ciarcia dismissed the setback as a bureaucratic snafu and vowed to open the 12-ride park — which features a new spinning bumper car-style ride called the “Mega Whirl” — as soon as possible.

“There was a delay, but I’m going to open soon,” Ciarcia said.

But Ciarcia has a long way to go before his park can open its doors: a Department of Buildings spokeswoman confirmed that Ciarcia still doesn’t have a certificate of occupancy for his amusement park — a lot between the Boardwalk and Bowery Street. He doesn’t have permits to operate the rides either, the spokeswoman confirmed.

Ciarcia refused to explain why he failed to get the permits — but his supporters were quick to defend him, claiming the city targeted him because his park doesn’t fit with Luna Park operator Central Amusements International’s vision for Coney Island.

“The city went after the little guy,” said Rican Vargas, the founder of Coney Island Dancers. “They wanted to make a statement.”

But Department of Buildings spokeswoman said the agency was merely enforcing the law.

She said Ciarcia started the paperwork process last Wednesday, but wouldn’t say how long it would take.

Cha-Cha’s Bar, Ciarcia’s beloved watering hole known for its live music and gritty feel, was one of eight Boardwalk businesses that fought to stay open after Central Amusements petitioned to boot them from the iconic walkway. Ruby’s Bar and Paul’s Daughter were allowed to return, but Cha-Cha’s and four other shops were evicted last year.

Ciarcia thumbed his nose at the amusement giant by opening a restaurant on Surf Avenue this spring and announcing plans last month to launch his own amusement park, where prices will be on par with Luna Park, but cheaper than Scream Zone.

“This is my comeback,” Ciarcia boasted at the time. “They threw me off the Boardwalk but they can’t kick me out of Coney Island.”

Reach reporter Daniel Bush at dbush@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-8310. Follow him at twitter.com/dan_bush.

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